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Prometheus Research Series 2 


on the 


Military Policy" 

With Introduction by 

the International Executive Committee of the 

International Communist League 

(Fourth Internationalist) 

^v" Prometheus Research Library Feb™ 

ary 1989 


Digitized by the Internet Archive 

in 2013 


on the 


Military Policy" 

With Introduction by 

the International Executive Committee of the 

International Communist League 

(Fourth Internationalist) 

Prometheus Research Library 

New York, New York 

February 1989 

Prometheus graphic 
from a woodcut by Fritz Brosius 

ISBN 0-9633828-4-5 
Second Printing, September 1993 

Prometheus Research Series is published by 
Spartacist Publishing Co., Box 1377 GPO, New York, NY 10116 



"Trotskyist Policies on the Second Imperialist War — 3 

Then and In Hindsight," by the International Executive 
Committee of the International Communist League (Fourth 

Appendix: "Proletarian Military Policy" 45 

Appendix: "Trotskyists in World War Two," by Pierre Vert 53 


"Resolution on Proletarian Military Policy," 57 

adopted at Plenum-Conference held in Chicago 
27-29 September 1940 


"Fascism and the World War," 4 November 1940 63 

"Working-Class Policy in War and Peace," January 1941 75 


"Resolution on Military Policy," submitted by the 83 

Workers International League and the Trotskyist 
Opposition of the Revolutionary Socialist League 

"On National Defence," submitted by the Militant Group 86 

of the Revolutionary Socialist League 

"Attitude of the Proletariat Towards Imperialist War," 87 

submitted by the Left Faction of the Revolutionary 
Socialist League 

Appendix: "Britain's War Production Is in Chaos!" 94 

flyer for 22 February 1942 public meeting 
of the Workers International League 


"A Propos of 'Trade-Union Control of National Defense'," 95 
by Comrade C. 

"The Committee's Reply to Comrade C." 99 


Material by Trotsky and Cannon on the 101 

"Proletarian Military Policy" 

We dedicate 

this bulletin to the memory of 

Piet van *t Hart, 

leader of the Committee of Revolutionary Marxists, 

and to the comrades who fought 

alongside him in illegality during the 

German occupation of Holland, 1940-1945 


The series of demands centering on the call for "trade-union 
control of military training," first raised by Leon Trotsky in the 
last months of his life and adopted by the Trotskyist movement as 
the "Proletarian Military Policy" (P.M.P.), played no small role in 
disorienting the small and sometimes isolated sections of the Fourth 
International in the early years of World War II. The P.M. P. has 
not been operational since about 1943, when German and Japanese 
military power began to recede and it became clear that the Allied 
imperialists would win the war. However, Pierre Broue opened a 
discussion on the subject in Cahiers Leon Trotsky in September 
1985. 1 More recently Sam Levy, a veteran of the British Trotskyist 
movement, has again raised the subject for critical historical 
review. 2 As Levy and Broue both partially document, at the time of 
its initiation the P.M. P. was a source of some dispute among those 
claiming the mantle of Trotskyism. 

Leon Trotsky's articles and letters on the subject of World 
War II and the P.M. P. are available in English in Pathfinder Press's 
Writings of Leon Trotsky series. The key writings and speeches of 
American Socialist Workers Party ( SWP ) leader James P. Cannon on 
this subject are also available in Pathfinder's collection, The 
Socialist Workers Party in World War II . However, other important 
documentary materials have long been out of print. We publish some 
of these here in Prometheus Research Series 2_; a listing of the 
immediately relevant material by Cannon and Trotsky appears in a 
bibliography appended to this bulletin. The documents we reprint 
should be read in conjunction with the equally important articles 
and speeches in the Cannon and Trotsky writings. 

The political consciousness of all classes in Europe in the 
period following WWI was dominated by the victory of the prole- 
tarian revolution in Russia in 1917. The spectre of Bolshevism 
loomed very large for those European sectors that had even one 
piece of silver to rub between their grubby fingers. For these 
elements--those who gained the slightest material advantage from 
the status quo, those with ideological or religious connection to 
the bourgeois order--fear of Communism dictated necessarily pro- 
fascist sympathies. After the military defeat in WWI of the most 

1 Pierre Broue, "Trotsky et les Trotskystes face a la 
deuxieme guerre mondiale," Cahiers Leon Trotsky , no. 23 (September 
1985), 35-60. 

2 Sam Levy, "The Proletarian Military Policy Revisited," 
Revolutionary History , vol. I, no. 3 (Autumn 1988), 8-18. 

powerful European state, Germany, and especially after the failure 
of two successive proletarian revolutions in that country, the 
stage was set for Nazism, Germany's virulent nationalism, to place 
itself at the head of European reaction. The proletarian victory 
in Russia failed to spread to the rest of Europe following the 
inconclusive war between Russia and Poland in 1920. This failure 
was largely due to the immaturity of the Communist leadership, as 
Trotsky pointed out in his brilliant and fundamental 1924 work, 
Lessons Of October . 3 Nonetheless, European reaction continued to 
feed on the combativity of the working class, particularly in Ger- 
many. Since fear of Communism had not been accompanied by its 
spread, the growing Nazi party, with wide echoes of agreement, 
offered up the Jews as surrogate Bolsheviks. 

When Leon Trotsky launched his call for the Fourth Interna- 
tional in July 1933, the approaching interimperialist war already 
cast its shadow over the world. Hitler's rise to power ensured 
that German imperialism would sooner, rather than later, embark on 
a military struggle to reverse the terms of the Versailles treaty 
which had ended the First World War. Nazism had triumphed in Ger- 
many largely because of the treacherous misleadership of the working 
class by the Stalinists and Social Democrats. Hitler's barbaric 
regime was widely and acutely hated by the world proletariat. As 
Hitler crushed the working class under the Nazi jackboot, consoli- 
dated a military alliance with Mussolini's Italy and built the war 
machine with which he would launch a struggle to redivide the world, 
the opposing imperialist bourgeoisies took advantage of the anti- 
fascist sentiments of the masses. The French and British ruling 
classes portrayed their defense of the existing imperialist status 
quo as a defense of "democracy" against fascism. The American 
bourgeoisie began to abandon the posture of European "peacemaker" 
which it had adopted after WWI , aligning itself with the French and 
British camp and also cloaking its imperialist war aims in "demo- 
cratic" and "anti-fascist" garb. 


When in June 1934 Trotsky authored "War and the Fourth Interna- 
tional," a manifesto on the coming imperialist conflagration, he 
cut through the "anti-fascist" and "democratic" pretensions of the 
imperialist warmongers: 

18. The sham of national defense is covered up 
wherever possible by the additional sham of the defense 
of democracy . If even now, in the imperialist epoch, 
Marxists do not identify democracy with fascism and are 
ready at any moment to repel fascism's encroachment upon 
democracy, must not the proletariat in case of war support 

3 This work appears in Leon Trotsky's The Challenge of the 
Left Opposition ( 1 923-25) (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1975), 
1 99-258. 

the democratic governments against the fascist 

Flagrant sophism! We defend democracy against fas- 
cism by means of the organizations and methods of the 
proletariat ... .And if we remain in irreconcilable opposi- 
tion to the most "democratic" government in time of peace, 
how can we take upon ourselves even a shadow of responsi- 
bility for it in time of war when all the infamies and 
crimes of capitalism take on a most brutal and bloody 

19. A modern war between the great powers does not 
signify a conflict between democracy and fascism but a 
struggle of two imperialisms for the redivision of the 
world. 4 

Leninists believed that the rise of imperialism had starkly posed 
before humanity the choice: either socialism or barbarism. The 
coming world war would be both a resumption and an extension of the 
first, on a more global scale. If the crisis of proletarian leader- 
ship was not resolved with the successful seizure of state power, 
human civilization would pay dearly. The working class would not 
shrink from defending its own conquest of power, arms in hand, nor 
would it shrink from giving all the military support within its 
means to the struggles of the colonial masses against imperialism. 
But the proletariat had no interest in this coming war, which would 
see the slaughter of millions, the mass destruction of industrial 
capacity, the devastation of agricultural lands and of the infra- 
structure of civilization--all so that one or another imperialist 
cabal could be assured of superprofits from colonial exploitation. 
Extending the revolutionary defeatist policy which guided the Bol- 
sheviks during the First World War and which imbued the documents 
of the first four congresses of the Communist International, Trotsky 
wrote : 

58. In those cases where it is a question of con- 
flict between capitalist countries, the proletariat of 
any one of them refuses categorically to sacrifice its 
historic interests, which in the final analysis coincide 
with the interests of the nation and humanity, for the 
sake of the military victory of the bourgeoisie. Lenin's 
formula, " defeat is the lesser evil , " means not defeat of 
one's country is the lesser evil as compared with the 
defeat of the enemy country but that a military defeat 
resulting from the growth of the revolutionary movement 
is infinitely more beneficial to the proletariat and to 
the whole people than military victory assured by "civil 
peace." Karl Liebknecht gave an unsurpassed formula of 
proletarian policy in time of war: "The chief enemy of 
the people is in its own country." The victorious 

4 Writings of Leon Trotsky ( 1 933-34 ) (New York: Pathfinder 
Press, 1972), 306-307. The entire manifesto, quoted extensively 
below, appears on pages 299-329. 

proletarian revolution not only will rectify the evils 
caused by defeat but also will create the final guarantee 
against future wars and defeats. This dialectical atti- 
tude toward war is the most important element of revolu- 
tionary training and therefore also of the struggle 
against war. 

59. The transformation of imperialist war into 
civil war is that general strategic task to which the 
whole work of a proletarian party during war should be 

Trotsky made only one addition to the revolutionary program 
elaborated during World War I--the duty of the world proletariat to 
militarily defend the gains of the October Revolution despite the 
usurpation of political power by the bureaucratic caste headed by 

8. . . . Defense of the Soviet Union from the blows of 
the capitalist enemies, irrespective of the circumstances 
and immediate causes of the conflict, is the elementary 
and imperative duty of every honest labor organization. 

Trotsky foresaw that a new world war would inevitably draw in the 
Soviet degenerated workers state, perhaps in military alliance with 
one of the imperialist camps. In no way would this mitigate either 
the proletariat's duty to defend the Soviet Union, or the policy of 
intransigent defeatism toward all the warring imperialist 

44. Remaining the determined and devoted defender 
of the workers' state in the struggle with imperialism, 
the international proletariat will not, however, become 
an ally of the imperialist allies of the USSR. The pro- 
letariat of a capitalist country that finds itself in an 
alliance with the USSR must retain fully and completely 
its irreconcilable hostility to the imperialist government 
of its own country . In this sense, its policy will not 
differ from that of the proletariat in a country fighting 
against the USSR. But in the nature of practical actions, 
considerable differences may arise depending on the con- 
crete war situation. For instance, it would be absurd 
and criminal in case of war between the USSR and Japan 
for the American proletariat to sabotage the sending of 
American munition to the USSR. But the proletariat of a 
country fighting against the USSR would be absolutely 
obliged to resort to actions of this sort--strikes , 
sabotage, etc. 

Trotsky's elaboration of the tactical considerations which 
flowed from Soviet defensism provoked controversy within the inter- 
national movement. Yvan Craipeau, who held the position that the 
Russian bureaucracy was a new ruling class, argued that military 
defense of the Soviet Union in the coming war would inevitably lead 
the Trotskyists into social-patriotism. In his reply to Craipeau, 

Trotsky pointed out that Soviet defensism and revolutionary defeat- 
ism had existed as two coequal elements in the program of the revo- 
lutionary proletariat since 1918: 

In that period [1918-1923] the Soviet state maneuvered on 
the international arena and sought temporary allies. At 
the same time, it is precisely in that period that defeat- 
ism was made a duty for the workers of all the imperialist 
countries, the "enemies" as well as the temporary 
"allies. "5 

Within the basic framework established by "War and the Fourth 
International," the Trotskyist movement debated and adopted posi- 
tions upon the various military conflicts which preceded and prefig- 
ured the approaching world war (military support to the Republican 
side while refusing to vote war credits during the Spanish Civil 
War; the military defense of Ethiopia against imperialist Italy; 
the military defense of China against imperialist Japan). Trotsky 
recognized that there was no sharp line of demarcation between the 
proletariat's policy in war and peace. He insisted that defeatism 
was simply the extension to wartime of the proletariat's irreconcil- 
able hostility to bourgeois class rule: 

To carry the class struggle to its highest form-- 
civil war--this is the task of defeatism. But this task 
can be solved only through the revolutionary mobilization 
of the masses, that is, by widening, deepening, and sharp- 
ening those revolutionary methods which constitute the 
content of class struggle in "peacetime. "6 

Within the context of heightened interimperialist rivalry and war 
there could arise colonial uprisings and proletarian struggles to 
which one or another of the imperialist camps might give military 
assistance. This would not mitigate the- duty of the international 
proletariat to give all the military support within its means to 
these struggles, just as the proletariat would be bound to militar- 
ily aid the Soviet Union in the coming war. 

The horrible depravity of German fascism, fusing as it did the 
most base social barbarism with a new technology of mass death, 
propelled many despairing ex-leftists into the Allied imperialist 
camp as the war approached. While in the period leading up to the 
First World War it was the extreme right-wing militarists who pushed 
for war, in the Allied countries in the pre-WWII period it was the 
factions on the "left" of the political spectrum who were the most 
ardent advocates of war (the Roosevelt New Dealers, the British 
Labour Party, and the Stalinist parties from 1935 until the Hitler- 

5 "Once Again: The USSR and Its Defense," 4 November 1937, 
Writings of Leon Trotsky ( 1 937-38) , 2nd ed. (New York: Pathfinder 
Press, 1976), 43. 

6 "Learn to Think," 22 May 1938, ibid., 333. 


Stalin pact). The main factions of the French and British bourgeoi- 
sies tried to appease Nazi Germany. When, after the abject capitu- 
lation of Chamberlain and Daladier to Hitler at Munich in the fall 
of 1938, some of Trotsky's supporters in Palestine capitulated to 
popular "anti-fascism" and argued for abandoning revolutionary 
defeatism, Trotsky labeled the Palestinian comrades' position "a 
step toward social patriotism." Using the concrete example of 
Czechoslovakia to unmask the "anti-fascist" rhetoric of the bour- 
geoisie, Trotsky wrote: 

"Could the proletariat of Czechoslovakia have strug- 
gled against its government and the latter 's capitulatory 
policy by slogans of peace and defeatism?" A very con- 
crete question is posed here in a very abstract form. 
There was no room for "defeatism" because there was no 
war (and it is not accidental that no war ensued). In 
the critical twenty-four hours of universal confusion and 
indignation, the Czechoslovak proletariat had the full 
opportunity of overthrowing the "capitulatory" government 
and seizing power. For this only a revolutionary 
leadership was required. Naturally, after seizing power, 
the proletariat would have offered desperate resistance 
to Hitler and would have indubitably evoked a mighty 
reaction in the working masses of France and other coun- 
tries. Let us not speculate on what the further course 
of events might have been. In any case the situation 
today would have been infinitely more favorable to the 
world working class. Yes, we are not pacifists; we are 
for revolutionary war. But the Czech working class did 
not have the slightest right to entrust the leadership of 
a war "against fascism" to Messrs. Capitalists who, within 
a few days, so safely changed their coloration and became 
themselves fascists and quasifascists. Transformations 
and recolorations of this kind on the part of the ruling 
classes will be on the order of the day in wartime in all 
"democracies." That is why the proletariat would ruin 
itself if it were to determine its main line of policy by 
the formal and unstable labels of "for fascism" and 
"against fascism. "7 


Trotsky soon saw indications that the Munich capitulation had 
frightened Stalin into seeking a military alliance with Hitler. 8 
But Trotsky also saw that this alliance would be short-lived. On 
23 August 1939 the Hitler-Stalin pact was signed: the Soviet Union 

"A Step Toward Social Patriotism," 7 March 1939, Writings 
of Leon Trotsky ( 1 938-39) , 2nd ed. (New York: Pathfinder Press, 
1974) , 211-212. 


"Stalin's Capitulation," 11 March 1939, ibid., 216-219. 

pledged to stay out of any war between Germany and the Western 
"democracies." Little more than a week later the pact was consum- 
mated when the Nazis invaded Poland, finally provoking Britain and 
France to a declaration of war. The German Blitzkrieg defeated the 
Polish forces in three weeks. Meanwhile, Soviet troops occupied 
eastern Poland, as per their agreement with Hitler. As a result of 
the Hitler-Stalin pact, the parties of the Communist International 
did an about-face. The Stalinist Popular Front policy, inaugurated 
in 1935 with the Stalin-Laval pact, had seen the Stalinist parties 
following and adding to the mass pro-war sentiment. Now they sud- 
denly discovered the imperialist ambitions of the "democratic" 
Allies, while ignoring the Italian occupation of Abyssinia and the 
German invasion of Poland. 

The Stalinist about-face produced a sharp break in popular 
political consciousness in the Allied imperialist countries as the 
war began: public opinion turned sharply to anti-Communism. A sec- 
tion of the cadre of the American Socialist Workers Party, led by 
Max Shachtman, Martin Abern and James Burnham, bowed to this wave 
of anti-Communism and took the first, qualitative step toward recon- 
ciliation with their own bourgeoisie, abandoning the military 
defense of the Soviet Union. As a result, Trotsky and Cannon spent 
the early months of the war embroiled in a crucial factional strug- 
gle over the Russian question. It was resolved only in April 1940 
when the defectors split, taking 40 percent of the membership from 
what had been the largest and most successful section of the Fourth 
International, to found the Workers Party. 

In May 1940, as Hitler's armies rolled through Belgium and 
Holland and on toward Paris, an emergency conference of the Fourth 
International was held in New York. Trotsky authored a new Mani- 
festo on the war, which was adopted by the conference. 9 it is in a 
passage near the end of this Manifesto that a new element in the 
Fourth International's program on the imperialist war first appears: 

The militarization of the masses is further inten- 
sified every day. We reject the grotesque pretension of 
doing away with this militarization through empty pacifist 
protests. All the great questions will be decided in the 
next epoch arms in hand. The workers should not fear 
arms; on the contrary they should learn to use them. 
Revolutionists no more separate themselves from the people 
during war than in peace. A Bolshevik strives to become 
not only the best trade unionist but also the best 

We do not wish to permit the bourgeoisie to drive 
untrained or half-trained soldiers at the last hour onto 
the battlefield. We demand that the state immediately 
provide the workers and the unemployed with the 

9 "Manifesto of the Fourth International on the Imperialist 
War and the Proletarian World Revolution," Writings of Leon Trotsky 
(1 939-40) , 2nd ed. (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1973), 183-222. 


possibility of learning how to handle the rifle, the hand 
grenade, the machine gun, the cannon, the airplane, the 
submarine, and the other tools of war. Special military 
schools are necessary in close connection with the trade 
unions so that the workers can become skilled specialists 
of the military art, able to hold posts as commanders. 

These sentences are the first expression of what became known as 
the "Proletarian Military Policy," though it appears that Trotsky 
had, as early as October 1939, been groping for some way to use the 
war to popularize the need for proletarian military training. 10 

Trotsky elaborated this new set of demands in a discussion 
with leaders of the American SWP on 12 June 1940.11 He also wrote 
several letters and an article on the subject over the next few 
months. 12 when his life was cut short by a Stalinist assassin in 
August, Trotsky was working on a major article designed in part to 
provide the theoretical justification for the new demands. 13 j n 
September, the SWP formally adopted a resolution on the new military 
policy at a conference in Chicago: 14 

We fight against sending the worker-soldiers into battle 
without proper training and equipment. We oppose the 
military direction of worker-soldiers by bourgeois offi- 
cers who have no regard for their treatment, their protec- 
tion and their lives. We demand federal funds for the 
military training of workers and worker-officers under 
the control of the trade unions. Military appropriations? 
Yes--but only for the establishment and equipment of 
worker training camps! Compulsory military training of 
workers? Yes--but only under the control of the trade 

From October 1940 until March 1945 these demands held a spot in the 
program box of the SWP ' s weekly press. 

1° See "On the Question of Workers' Self-Def ense, " ibid., 99- 
105. This article was written on 25 October 1939 but not published 
by Trotsky in his lifetime. 

11 "Discussions with Trotsky," 12-15 June 1940, ibid., 251- 
289. Only the discussion of 1 2 June deals directly with the P.M. P. 

12 See "We Do Not Change Our Course" (30 June 1940), "Letter 
on Conscription" (9 July 1940), "American Problems" (7 August 1940), 
"How to Defend Ourselves" (12 August 1940), "How to Really Defend 
Democracy" (13 August 1940), "Another Thought on Conscription" (17 
August 1940), ibid., 296-299, 321-322, 331-342, 343, 344-345, 392. 

1 ^ The fragments of this uncompleted article are published as 
"Bonapartism, Fascism, and War," ibid., 410-418. 

14 Reprinted below, pages 57-62. 

1 1 

The adoption of the "Proletarian Military Policy" did not 
provoke known opposition within the American SWP. However, Max 
Shachtman, then only one step down the long road he followed toward 
reconciliation with American imperialism, wrote some very effective 
polemics against it, which we reprint here. 15 when some of those 
who had left the SWP with Shachtman rejoined in Los Angeles, they 
retained their opposition to the P.M.P. 1 ^ 

In Britain the P.M. P. was extremely controversial. All wings 
of the faction-ridden Revolutionary Socialist League (RSL), official 
section of the Fourth International, initially opposed what they 
called the "American Military Policy." However, a pro-P.M.P. fac- 
tion eventually developed within the RSL: the Trotskyist Opposition 
(TO) led by Hilda Lane and John Lawrence. In 1942 the TO was 
expelled, and opposition to the military policy was made a criterion 
of RSL membership. In contrast, the British Workers International 
League (WIL), which had been condemned by the founding conference 
of the Fourth International for its cliquist refusal to join the 
RSL, adopted the P.M. P., though not without some internal dissen- 
sion. When, in March 1944, the WIL fused with the remnants of the 
RSL, the P.M. P. was still a subject of debate. 17 The new organiza- 
tion, the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP), adopted the reso- 
lution on military policy submitted by the former WIL and TO. In 
addition to this resolution, we reprint below the motions submitted 
to the RCP founding conference by the Militant Group and the Left 
Faction of the former RSL. 1 8 

Communication among the Fourth Internationalists was spotty to 
nonexistent during the war. The Dutch Committee of Revolutionary 
Marxists, which produced some of the best defeatist propaganda, 
appears not to have known about the P.M. P. Where it did become 
known, however, the new military policy provoked controversy. The 
Bulletin Mensuel de la IVe Internationale published by the Com- 
mittees for the Fourth International in Vichy France printed 
excerpts from the SWP ' s conference resolution in its April 1941 
issue. We print below translations of two articles which accom- 
panied the excerpts. One, a letter by "Comrade C," objects to the 
SWP resolution and to the fact that the French leading Committee 
saw fit to print it. The Committee's reply to Comrade C. also 

"15 See below, pages 63-82. 

16 Cannon mentions this Los Angeles opposition in a letter to 
Farrell Dobbs written in February 1942. See The Socialist Workers 
Party in World War II (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1975), 217. 

17 For this account of the dispute among the British Trot- 
skyists we have relied on Sam Bornstein and Al Richardson, The War 
and the International (London: Socialist Platform, 1986). See espe- 
cially pages 12-17. 


See below, pages 83-93. 


takes issue with the SWP ' s military policy while defending their 
decision to open a discussion on the question. 1 9 


In large part the P.M. P. was based on an exaggerated prognosis 
of the extent to which the proletariat would engage in struggle 
against the war early on. Trotsky thought that wartime necessity 
would rapidly rip the "anti-fascist" and "democratic" mask off the 
Anglo-American imperialists. He expected that the bourgeoisies of 
both countries would be forced to impose some variant of bonapartist 
dictatorship in the face of mounting discontent, leading to social 
struggle and perhaps situations of dual power. Moreover, Trotsky 
projected that, faced with internal social struggle, the Anglo- 
American imperialists would follow the example of their French 
allies and become "defeatist," viewing Hitler as the lesser evil. 
In his last article, Trotsky wrote: 

The Second World War poses the question of change of 
regimes more imperiously, more urgently than did the 
first war. It is first and foremost a question of the 
political regime. The workers are aware that democracy 
is suffering shipwreck everywhere, and that they are 
threatened by fascism even in those countries where fas- 
cism is as yet nonexistent. The bourgeoisie of the demo- 
cratic countries will naturally utilize this dread of 
fascism on the part of the workers, but, on the other 
hand, the bankruptcy of democracies, their collapse, 
their painless transformation into reactionary dicta- 
torships, compel the workers to pose before themselves 
the problem of power, and render them responsive to the 
posing of the problem of power. 20 

Based on this prognosis, Trotsky combined "fighting fascism" 
in the war with the task of the proletariat seizing power. In his 
summary speech to the SWP ' s September conference, Cannon makes the 
telescoping explicit: 

Many times in the past we were put at a certain dis- 
advantage; the demagogy of the Social Democrats against 
us was effective to a certain extent. They said, "You 
have no answer to the question of how to fight against 
Hitler, how to prevent Hitler from conquering France, 
Belgium, etc. "... Well , we answered in a general way, the 
workers will first overthrow the bourgeoisie at home and 
then they will take care of invaders. That was a good 
program, but the workers did not make the revolution in 

19 See below, pages 95-100. 

20 "Bonapartism, Fascism, and War," op. cit., 413. 


time. Now the two tasks must be telescoped and carried 
out simultaneously . 21 

In "Bonapartism, Fascism, and War" Trotsky bases the P.M. P. on the 
experience of the Russian Revolution: 

True enough, the Bolsheviks in the space of eight months 
conquered the overwhelming majority of the workers. But 
the decisive role in this conquest was played not by the 
refusal to defend the bourgeois fatherland but by the 
slogan "All Power to the Soviets!" And only by this 
revolutionary slogan! The criticism of imperialism, its 
militarism, the renunciation of the defense of bourgeois 
democracy and so on could have never conquered the over- 
whelming majority of the people to the side of the 
Bolsheviks. . . .22 

But Trotsky's use of the post-February Bolshevik example could only 
be misleading in a situation where there did not yet exist a situ- 
ation of dual power in any imperialist country. 


After the overthrow of tsarism in February 1917 the Bolsheviks 
maintained their intransigent opposition to the imperialist war, 
now being waged by the new "democratic" capitalist government. 
Lenin's April Theses declare that "not the slightest concession 
must be made to 'revolutionary defencism'." But the April Theses 
also state that: 

In view of the undoubted honesty of those broad 
sections of the mass believers in revolutionary defencism 
who accept the war only as a necessity, and not as a 
means of conquest, in view of the fact that they are 
being deceived by the bourgeoisie, it is necessary with 
particular thoroughness, persistence and patience to 
explain their error to them, to explain the inseparable 
connection existing between capital and the imperialist 
war, and to prove that without overthrowing capital i_t is 
impossible to end the war by a truly democratic peace, a 
peace not imposed by violence. 23 

21 "Summary Speech on Military Policy," The Socialist Workers 
Party in World War II , 98. Cannon's main political report to the 
Plenum-Conference which adopted the P.M. P. is printed in the same 
volume, titled "Military Policy of the Proletariat," 66-83. 


Op. cit., 411-412. 

23 v.I. Lenin, "The Tasks of the Proletariat in the Present 
Revolution," Collected Works , 4th ed. (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 
1960-1970), vol. 24, 21-22. 


Increasingly the Bolsheviks attempted to find a "bridge" to the 
defensist sentiments of the masses. But this was only possible 
because the working masses had overthrown the tsar and created the 
soviets--incipient organs of proletarian state power. The proletar- 
iat had in hand a conquest worth defending against the German 
armies. Correspondingly the Russian bourgeoisie , faced with the 
revolutionary proletariat, increasingly went over to defeatism 
(even going so far as to allow German troops to take Riga). "All 
Power to the Soviets!" became a call for the Russian proletariat to 
take power, the better to be able to defend the revolution against 
both internal counterrevolution and the German armies. The Bol- 
sheviks recognized that they might well have to defend a Russian 
Soviet state after taking power, and they certainly never excluded 
the possibility that the new state might wage a revolutionary war 
against Germany. 

The shift in Bolshevik propagandistic emphasis led Lenin to 
remark in 1918 that "we were defeatists under the Tsar, but under 
Tsereteli and Chernov we were not defeatists. "24 yet the Bolsheviks 
never abandoned a defeatist posture toward the Russian bourgeois 
government--they simply varied the tactical application because of 
the class war then raging in Russia. When the imperialist war is 
transformed into a civil war, that civil war is fought out on the 
internal political terrain of the individual nation-state. 

Politics is in large part the art of the possible. It is not 
possible to demand the equivalent of "All Power to the Soviets!" in 
the absence of that level of class struggle and consciousness which 
leads to Soviets or some other organs of dual power. The general 
strike which rocked Prague 21-22 September 1938 was certainly a 
situation which approximated the one foreseen in Trotsky's last, 
unfinished article on the war: the question of change of regime was 
imperiously posed when the working class simply (and evidently 
spontaneously) revolted against the rumored capitulation of the 
Hodza government to Hitler's demand for the Sudeten. The call for 
the formation of general strike committees to take power out of the 
hands of the bourgeoisie--the only measure which could defend the 
Czech, Slovak and German working masses against Hitler--would have 
been appropriate here, though it was necessary to couple this with 
agitation for the democratic rights of the Sudeten Germans oppressed 
by the Czech bourgeoisie. In the absence of a struggle for prole- 
tarian state power, the Czech ruling class, with the indispensable 
aid of the mass Stalinist party, succeeded in derailing the revolt 
of the masses. The new Syrovy government promised before crowds 
of hundreds of thousands to "fight to the end"--and once the 

24 Cited in Brian Pearce, "Lenin and Trotsky on Pacifism and 
Defeatism," first printed in the British Labour Review , vol. 6, no. 
1 (Spring 1961), and reprinted in the pamphlet What Is Revolutionary 
Leadership? (New York: Spartacist Publishing Co., 1970). Pearce 
relies heavily on Hal Draper, "The Myth of Lenin's 'Revolutionary 
Defeatism'," an article serialized in the New International , nos. 
161-163 (Sept. -Oct., Nov. -Dec. 1953 and Jan. -Feb. 1954). 


proletariat was demobilized gave way to the French and British 
insistence on capitulation, ceding the Sudeten to Hitler. 25 

But to call in the midst of a potentially revolutionary situa- 
tion for proletarian state power to defend against Hitler is not 
the same thing as to call for "trade-union control of military 
training" when it is the bourgeois state waging war against Hitler. 
Trotsky erred in attempting to raise a positive set of demands for 
the war in the absence of a revolutionary situation. As a general 
rule revolutionaries prefer to raise negative demands on the bour- 
geois state--these are the most powerful vehicles for mobilizing 
the masses against the bourgeoisie. Positive demands on the core 
institutions of the capitalist state--the army, police and courts- 
are easily bent in the reformist direction of portraying the 
bourgeois repressive apparatus as somehow class-neutral. 


In hindsight it is clear that the P.M. P. is shamelessly Uto- 
pian: the bourgeois state is not about to legislate away its control 
of military training. The working class cannot "control" any aspect 
of the bourgeois army, except in a transitory revolutionary situa- 
tion (e.g. one presenting certain elements of dual power). In such 
a situation, Leninists seek to win the mass of the soldiers to the 
side of the incipient proletarian revolution, in the process smash- 
ing the institutions of the bourgeois state and thus creating a new 
proletarian state in its place. 

Along the road of struggle leading to the establishment of a 
proletarian state, the call for the establishment of workers self- 
defense organizations is central to the revolutionary program. 
These organizations represent the army of the workers state in 
embryo-- but only if they are completely independent of the bourgeois 
state . The Transitional Program, adopted at the founding conference 
of the Fourth International in 1938, couples its call for workers' 
military schools and military training with the demand for the 
"complete independence of workers' organizations from military- 
police control. "26 But the P.M. P. demanded that the bourgeois 
state fund workers' military schools, bending toward a reformist 
position on the character of the capitalist state. The SWP ' s 
ridiculous demand for "trade-union control of conscription" went 
even further down this road. 

25 This account of the September events in Czechoslovakia is 
based on Karel Kostal, "Munich: l'envers du my the," Ca hiers Leon 
Trotsky , no. 23 (September 1985), 23-34. 

26 The Transitional Program for Socialist Rev olution, 2nd ed 
(New York: Pathfinder Press, 1974), 91. 



Revolutionary defeatism represents the desire, from an inter- 
national and strategic standpoint, to turn the imperialist war into 
a civil war. Yet the origins of the formulation reveal a certain 
confusion inherent in its use. Lenin first developed the concept 
during the Russo-Japanese war, when he supported the military 
victory of nascent Japanese capitalism against the tsarist monarchy 
(Lenin viewed the war as a repeat of the nationalist wars of 19th 
century Europe and not as an interimperialist conflict prefiguring 
WWI ) . However, during the First World War Lenin clearly generalized 
"defeatism" into a policy which applied equally to the proletariats 
of all the imperialist combatants. The use of the term "defeatism" 
is based on the recognition that: (1 ) a string of military defeats 
for an imperialist government helps to bring about domestic social 
struggle and (2) any significant social struggle in time of war 
inevitably "aids" the enemy power. The proletariat will not curtail 
the class struggle for fear of facilitating the victory of the 
"enemy" imperialist camp. Karl Liebknecht's slogan "The main enemy 
is at home" best encapsulates the sense of Lenin's revolutionary 

Lurking not far under the surface of the P.M. P. was the propo- 
sition that the proletariats of the world had a greater enemy than 
their own bourgeoisies--namely German fascism. Hitler's armies 
were marching toward Paris as Trotsky wrote the May 1940 Manifesto; 
later Trotsky advocated that the ignominious French capitulation 
become the centerpiece of P.M. P. propaganda: 

It is important, of course, to explain to the advanced 
workers that the genuine fight against fascism is the 
socialist revolution. But it is more urgent, more imper- 
ative, to explain to the millions of American workers 
that the defense of their "democracy" cannot be delivered 
over to an American Marshal Petain....If the fatherland 
should be defended, then the defense cannot be abandoned 
to the arbitrary will of individuals. It should be a 
common attitude. 27 

But Trotsky had pointed out as early as 1934 that fascism in 
power operates in a manner politically akin to a bonapartist 
military dictatorship. 28 t ^j.nk "defense of democracy" and "anti- 
fascism" with the Allied imperialist war effort represented a capit- 
ulation to false consciousness . It was the job of revolutionaries 
to expose the anti-fascist pretensions of the "democratic" ruling 
classes. In 1927 Winston Churchill had declared to Mussolini's 
government, "If I had been an Italian, I am sure that I should have 
been wholeheartedly with you from start to finish in your triumphant 

27 "How to Really Defend Democracy," op. cit. , 344-345. 

28 "Bonapartism and Fascism," 15 July 1934, Writings of Leon 
Trotsky (1934-35) , (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1971), 51-57. 


struggle against the bestial appetites and passions of Leninism. "29 
A decade later he was railing about the "bestiality of Nazism." 
The Fourth International had hammered home the point that the "demo- 
cratic" bourgeoisie of today will tomorrow employ the fascists as a 
club against the revolutionary proletariat. While in theory the 
P.M. P. was based on the idea that the "democracies" would rapidly 
try to institute some kind of bonapartist dictatorship, in practice 
it conceded ground to the "anti-fascist" war propaganda of the 
Allied imperialists. Thus it meant retreat to a profoundly ahistor- 
ical view of the war and the regimes prosecuting it. 

The new military policy was only applied, and could only have 
been applied, in Britain, the United States and their ancillary 
allies (Australia, Canada). Sam Levy at once recognizes and 
attempts to deny this fact: 

The struggle was first and foremost in the original 
bourgeois democratic countries, even though the struggle 
for the armed bodies of men was equally necessary in the 
Fascist countries, though its manner and form would be 
determined by circumstances, the difficulties involved, 
etc. 30 

Levy has to be vague about the concrete application of the P.M. P. 
to Germany. The May 1940 Manifesto was hardly demanding that Hit- 
ler ' s state establish schools for workers' training under trade- 
union control. 

The world proletariat had every reason to fear and loathe the 
Nazi jackboot. Naturally this fear was particularly acute in the 
European nations which were most vulnerable to German conquest and 
occupation. The Belgian masses had already experienced occupation 
in WWI. But it was not the job of the Fourth International to 
accept the Allied bourgeois armies as saviors by declaring that (in 
the words of the May Manifesto) "We do not wish to permit the 
bourgeoisie to drive untrained or half-trained soldiers at the last 
hour onto the battlefield." Trotsky was not referring to the German 
army in this passage--there is a tacit Anglo-American bias behind 
the abstraction of "the bourgeoisie." 

Yes, Hitler's armies had smashed through Holland, Belgium and 
France — thousands had died and millions were going to die in this 
obscene war of imperialist conquest, the renewal and intensifica- 
tion of the conflagration that had wracked the European continent 
from 1914 to 1918. But far better that intense proletarian class 
struggle and colonial uprisings paralyze the British and American 
war effort, perhaps leading to transient German victories, than 

29 Cited in Richard Griffiths, Fellow Travellers of the Right: 
British Enthusiasts for Nazi Germany 1 933-9 (Oxford: Oxford Univer- 
sity Press, 1 983) , 1 4. 


Levy , op. cit . , 8 


that the proletariat implicitly support the Allied armies by demand- 
ing better trained and equipped soldiers! Behind the P.M. P. as it 
was developed by the British and American Trotskyists lies the 
insistence that "Hitler must stop at our borders"--that is, the 
assumption that military defeat, occupation, mass murder, forced 
labor could or should only happen to the peoples of the European 
continent and the colored peoples of the colonies. 

If mass popular opposition to the war had disrupted the British 
war effort, leading Hitler to attempt a Channel crossing (as it 
was, he never mounted a serious effort), the German conquerors 
would have inherited the problems of the British bourgeoisie, com- 
pounded by national resentment at the foreign invader. The colonial 
slaves of the British empire would doubtless have taken advantage 
of a humiliating British defeat to declare their independence. It 
is not hard to imagine the revolutionary world scenario which would 
have ensued, infecting even the soldiers of the Wehrmacht, many of 
whom were the sons of Social Democratic and Communist workers. 

In fact the masses of India did take advantage of the war to 
press their struggle for national liberation. Within a few weeks 
of Britain's bald announcement that India was "at war" with the 
Axis powers, 90,000 workers were on strike against the war in Bom- 
bay, and there were also strikes and mass meetings in Calcutta and 
elsewhere. If the small Trotskyist forces had demanded, in the 
midst of this strike wave, that the British imperialists fund spe- 
cial schools under trade-union control so that the Indian masses 
could "fight fascism" and defend British "democracy," it would have 
meant their transformation and virtual dissolution into the British 

The initial Indian strike wave was derailed, but mass antiwar 
sentiment did not evaporate. The rapid succession of Japanese 
military victories in Hong Kong, Malaya, Singapore and finally 
Burma impelled even the compradors of Gandhi's Congress Party to 
action against the war. In August and September of 1942 a massive 
"Quit India" movement swept the subcontinent. Barricades went up 
in the streets of Bombay, spontaneous strikes erupted--millions 
went into the streets shouting "Inquilab Zindabad!" (Long Live the 
Revolution!). British retaliation was swift and vicious: thousands 
were killed, entire villages were bombed by the air force, and tens 
of thousands were rounded up and put in British concentration camps. 
The Indian Stalinists, now firm backers of the British war effort, 
helped the imperialists crush the struggle. The young and inexpe- 
rienced Trotskyist forces organized in the Bolshevik-Leninist Party 
of India (BLPI--led at the time by exiled members of the Ceylonese 
Lanka Samasamaja Party) intervened heroically. They warned of the 
treachery of the Congress Party and the Stalinists, advocated the 
agrarian revolution--and they called for the formation of strike 
and workers self-defense committees. The P.M. P. had no place in the 


BLPl's program, which was headlined with the slogans, "Down with 
imperialism! Down with the imperialist war! "31 

The British and American Trotskyists could have pursued these 
same negative slogans which had been used by revolutionaries in 
World War I. "Not one man and not one penny for the imperialist 
army" should have been the basis for their propaganda on the war. 
Insofar as the Allied imperialists lost during the early years of 
the war, "fear of foreign invasion" did come to predominate in 
popular political consciousness in the main Allied metropolitan 
centers. But the Allied losses weren't terminal. The population 
was not ground into the kind of despair, desperation and grasping 
at alternatives (real or illusory) that leads to massive unrest and 
revolt against a warring government, as occurred, e.g., in Russia 
in 1917, in Germany in 1918, among the Ukrainian peasantry in June 
1941. In any case revolutionaries do not base their program on 
transitory popular moods, but on the historic interests of the 
working class. In the early years of the First World War the tiny 
forces of the Zimmerwald antiwar socialists had to swim against the 
current of popular pro-war sentiment. They stuck to their guns, 
awaiting the domestic discontent that the hardships of war (and 
especially defeat) inevitably engender. This was also the task of 
the Fourth Internationalists in World War II. 


The American SWP and British WIL used the P.M. P. to blur their 
propaganda on the nature of the war and blunt the edge of their 
revolutionary defeatism. A 1941 pamphlet published by the WIL 
claimed that their newspaper, Socialist Appeal , had "consistently 
put forward a proletarian military policy whereby the workers will 
be enabled to wage a genuine revolutionary war against Hitlerism 
and every other brand of Fascism. "32 The SWP ' s Militant declared: 
"the real solution is to transform this imperialist war into a war 
against fascism. "33 -phe Militant ' s declaration is made in the 
midst of an article opposing the new "Lend-Lease" law (which allowed 
Roosevelt to provide massive material aid for the British war 
effort) and it is coupled with the statement: "That can only be done 
by taking all power out of the hands of the capitalist class. The 
workers can fight and conquer fascism only by taking control of the 
country into their own hands." Yet when 29 leaders of the SWP and 
Teamsters Local 544 were tried in Minneapolis under the Smith Act 
(18 were eventually convicted and sent to prison), Cannon's trial 

3 1 "Draft Programme of the Bolshevik-Leninist Party of India" 
(1942), reprinted by the Lanka Samasamaja Party (R), December 1970. 

32 Cited in Bornstein and Richardson, op. cit., 55. 

33 see "Fight Against War Goes On!," Militant , 15 March 1941. 
Formulations similar to the one quoted appear in a few subsequent 
issues of the Militant. 


testimony also tended toward the call to transform the war into a 
"real" struggle against fascism: 

Q: Is it true then that the party is as equally 
opposed to Hitler as it is to the capitalist claims of 
the United States? 

A: That is uncontestable. We consider Hitler and 
Hitlerism the greatest enemy of mankind. We want to wipe 
it off the face of the earth. The reason we do not sup- 
port a declaration of war by American arms is because we 
do not believe the American capitalists can defeat Hitler 
and fascism. We think Hitlerism can be destroyed only by 
way of conducting a war under the leadership of the 
workers. 34 

In addition, Cannon portrayed "trade-union control of military 
training" as a simple legislative proposal--a bit of parliamentary 
cretinism most insincerely delivered. Cannon's trial testimony was 
a source of controversy in the Trotskyist movement at the time, but 
the P.M. P. figured in only a minor way. Grandizo Munis' criticism 
was suffused with striking advocacy of "violence" and "sabotage," 
revealing a good dose of Blanquism and anarchism. Neither Cannon 
then, nor Trotskyists today, seek or glory in any general way in 
"violence" and "sabotage." 

Yet Cannon's testimony certainly lacks the sense that imbued 
the thesis on American imperialism adopted by the founding con- 
ference of the Fourth International: 

There is every indication that, unless European imper- 
ialism is smashed by the proletarian revolution and peace 
established on a socialist basis, the United States will 
dictate the terms of the imperialist peace after emerging 
as the victor. Its participation will not only determine 
the victory of the side it joins, but will also determine 
the disposition of the booty, of which it will claim the 
lion's share. .. .American imperialism challenges the claims 
of its older rivals to exclusively exploit China's vast 
rich resources, both natural and human. Behind this 
"pacific" slogan [the "open door"] is the half-drawn 
sword--against both Japan and England for an increasing 
right to exploit China and the Chinese masses. As in all 

34 James P. Cannon, Socialism on Trial , 5th ed. (New York: 
Pathfinder Press, 1973), 52. Grandizo Munis' attack on Cannon's 
trial testimony and Cannon's reply are appended to this edition. 

Workers Power's tendentious history The Death Agony of the 
Fourth International (London, 1983, p. 20) echoes Munis' criti- 
cisms. To serve their purposes Workers Power transmutes the reply 
by Cannon which we have quoted above to "That is unanswerable. We 
consider Hitler and Hitlerism the greatest enemy of mankind," etc. 


other cases, American imperialism in the Far East is a 
thin cloak for aggressive imperialist expansion. 35 

In fact the ferocious war between the Japanese and American imperi- 
alist forces in the Pacific figured hardly at all in the weekly 
newspaper of the SWP after Roosevelt finally succeeded in provoking 
the Japanese to declare war on the United States. The only ideolog- 
ical basis for the Pacific War was intense racism (on both sides) -- 
revolutionaries could hardly find a "bridge" to the defensist 
sentiments of the masses on that basis. 

The imperialist ambitions of Washington and Tokyo in Asia fig- 
ured prominently in Trotsky's own projections as to the probable 
course of WWII. From the beginning of the Japanese war against 
China in July 1937, Fourth Internationalists had given unconditional 
military support to the Chinese resistance to Japanese conquest, 
while recognizing that the war in China would become "more and more 
interlocked with the imperialist war" (May Manifesto). After Decem- 
ber 1941 Chiang Kai-shek's nationalist army did subordinate itself 
to the U.S. imperialist war effort, but Mao Tse-tung's peasant- 
based forces continued to wage the struggle for national independ- 
ence. The prescience of Trotsky's December 1939 prediction that 
the Japanese would move from China into the American, British and 
Dutch colonies of the South Pacific (and not northwest toward the 
USSR)36 i s startling in light of the fact that it was only two 
years later that the heroic Soviet spies Richard Sorge and Ozaki 
Hotsumi finally confirmed that this was the intention of the Japa- 
nese high command. 

The SWP ' s adoption of the P.M. P. necessitated a certain blind- 
ness to the grinding, racist war being fought in Asia. Yet the 
Militant condemned the internment of Japanese Americans, and the SWP 
also conducted extensive agitation for black rights during the war. 
Prior to the late 1930s the American black population lived largely 
in the rural South, but the war and the military buildup that 
preceded it saw a tremendous migration of blacks into industry in 
the North and West, into Southern urban areas, and into the mili- 
tary. Blacks keenly resented the fact that the armed forces 
remained rigidly segregated, with the upper echelons of the officer 
corps heavily drawn from white Southerners and openly racist. 
While the black population hated everything that Hitler stood for, 
wartime propaganda about American "democracy" ran counter to their 
everyday experience. Thus black American response to WWII mobiliza- 
tion was contradictory, ranging from skeptical to cynical to overtly 
hostile. This latter reaction was captured in the words of a young 
Southern black quoted in the 19 October 1940 Socialist Appeal as 

35 "Thesis on the World Role of American Imperialism," Docu- 
ments of the Fourth International (New York: Pathfinder Press, 
1973), 247. 

36 " The Twin-Stars: Hitler-Stalin," 4 December 1939, Writings 
of Leon Trotsky ( 1 939-40) , 117. 


saying, "I only hope I go to the army and stay there long enough to 
get my hands on a machine gun.... All the fighting I'll ever do will 
be right here at home." The SWP ' s wartime agitation against Jim 
Crow won it substantial black recruitment, much of it deflected 
from the Communist Party, which had abandoned the struggle for black 
rights when it embraced the imperialist war effort. This exemplary 
campaign against racism and segregation, especially in the military, 
tended to cut across the implicit social-patriotism of the P.M. P. 

The P.M.P.'s tendency to blur the line between defeatism and 
defensism was reflected in the statement, first made in the May 
1940 Manifesto, that a Bolshevik strives to be the "best soldier." 
This stands in flat contradiction to the Manifesto's call for frat- 
ernization between the troops of the imperialist armies, but it is 
repeated in the SWP ' s September 1940 resolution. In contrast, a 
Manifesto by the Executive Committee of the Fourth International 
written just after Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union calls for 
workers to be the "best soldiers" in a suitable army--the Red one. 37 
The revolutionaries imprisoned in Stalin's Arctic camps, among whom 
there still numbered many Trotskyists, volunteered to serve in the 
Red Army by the hundreds of thousands. Despite the criminal refusal 
of the Stalinist bureaucracy to let them fight, the Soviet politi- 
cal prisoners did what they could for the Soviet war effort, relin- 
quishing certain of their rights and agreeing to the extension of 
the working day to 12 hours. 38 This was totally appropriate: Trot- 
skyists were military defensists in the case of Soviet Russia, but 
they were not supposed to be defensists in the case of the Allied 

The SWP zealously applied Trotsky's dictum that "any confusion 
with the pacifists is a hundred times more dangerous than temporary 
confusion with the bourgeois militarists. "39 They dumped their 
campaign against conscription in favor of a virulent attack on 
"mealy-mouthed" pacifism, which their September 1940 resolution 
labels "a debilitating poison in the workers' movement." This in 
the midst of a major wave of social-chauvinism! 

Leninists do not separate themselves from the masses of youth, 
especially the young workers, drafted in time of imperialist war. 
If drafted, revolutionaries go into the army with the rest of their 
generation in order to engage in propaganda and agitation against 
the war. Individual pacifist resistance is no solution to imperi- 
alist war, yet many of its practitioners are courageous individuals 
whom Marxists want to address with their propaganda--and the bour- 
geois state's repressive measures against them should certainly be 

37 "For Defense of the Soviet Union," August 1941. Published 
in Fourth International , vol. II, no. 8, October 1941. 

38 Joseph Berger, Nothing But the Truth (New York: The John 
Day Company, 1971), 203. 


See "Discussions with Trotsky," op. cit., 256. 


opposed by revolutionaries. Mass pacifist sentiment can provide a 
starting point for revolutionary propaganda against the war, as the 
report of the Canadian section to the Emergency Conference of the 
Fourth International in May 1940 recognized (there was mass oppo- 
sition to conscription in French Canada ). 4 

The anti-pacifist campaign of the SWP and WIL paralleled that 
of the bourgeois militarists. After the signing of the Hitler- 
Stalin pact, the pacifist George Orwell became an open social- 
patriot and he railed that it was left-wingers "trying to spread an 
outlook that was sometimes squashily pacifist" who had sapped the 
morale of British imperialism in the face of Hitler. 41 With the 
Wehrmacht sitting across the Channel, the WIL's emphasis on the 
need to "arm the workers" had to sound similar to Orwell's call on 
the British state to "arm the people" against Nazi invasion. 


The bourgeois state desperately fears giving arms to the work- 
ing class. Historically, the proletariat seizes arms when faced 
with a felt threat (e.g., the Spanish workers faced with Franco's 
coup). The use of the slogan "arm the workers" gave a semi- 
defensist tilt to the WIL's propaganda. Jock Haston, Sam Levy and 
Millie Lee opposed this tilt, particularly when it cropped up as 
softness to the bourgeois defense forces of the Home Guard. But 
Haston would not argue against the P.M. P. itself, since Cannon and 
Trotsky were its proponents. This led Haston into the dishonest 
methodology of denying that Cannon and Trotsky meant what they 
wrote--ludicrously he claimed that the P.M. P. was simply a program 
for work in the armed forces (as if Leninists had not always opposed 
individual draft resistance!). 42 it was apparently Haston' s inter- 
vention that pulled the WIL back from an early approach to social- 
patriotism. A subsequent WIL resolution on the military policy 
drops the demand "arm the workers" and also demands the dissolution 
of the Home Guard. 4 ^ 

Yet a current conciliatory of defensism continued to run 
through the WIL's propaganda. We have appended to this bulletin a 
flyer for a 1942 WIL meeting. This flyer presents workers control 
of production as the answer to the "chaos" of British war produc- 
tion, and it contains not one word of opposition to the war. In a 

40 "The Canadian Section and the War," Documents of the Fourth 
International , 389. 

41 George Orwell, "England Your England" (1941), Inside the 
Whale and Other Essays ( Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1962), 86. 

42 See "A Step Towards Capitulation," 21 March 1941, Internal 
Bulletin of the WIL. 


Bornstein and Richardson, op. cit. , 15. 


speech to the 1943 WIL conference, Ted Grant went so far as to 

We have a victorious army in North Africa and Italy, and 
I say, yes, Long Live the Eighth Army, because that is 
our army. One of our comrades has spoken to a number of 
people who have had letters from the Eighth Army soldiers 
showing their complete dissatisfaction. We know of inci- 
dents in the army, navy and other forces that have never 
been reported, and it is impossible for us to report. It 
is OUR Eighth Army that is being hammered and tested and 
being organised for the purpose of changing the face of 
the world. This applies equally to all the forces. 44 


Especially after the Nazi occupation of France in June 1940, 
the pressure on the Trotskyists in occupied Europe was enormous. 
Added to this was the pervasive cliquism which had riddled the 
European groups ever since their formation in the early 1930s. So 
it is not surprising that, cut off from senior cadre international- 
ly, and with the death of Trotsky, most individuals and virtually 
all the groups showed major disorientation, ranging from partial 
revision of some crucial aspect of Leninism to the total abandonment 
of Marxism. Jean Rous, who had supported Trotsky's positions in 
many of the faction fights in the French section from 1934 to 1939, 
defected to found the "Mouvement National Revolutionnaire" under 
the slogan "Neither Vichy nor London, neither Berlin nor Moscow." 
The MNR took the position that Hitler's Germany, like Stalin's 
Russia, represented a new, higher stage of capitalism. They flirted 
briefly with Deat's French fascist party, calling on the French 
state to defend itself against "Judaism, Masonry and Jesuitism. "45 
Most MNR members eventually joined the Gaullist Resistance. 

The German section, the International Communists (IKD), which 

existed during the war only in exile, broke with Leninism toward 

Menshevism when it claimed that "the transition from fascism to 

socialism remains a utopia without a stopping place, which is by 

44 Cited in Bornstein and Richardson, op. cit., 89. 

4 ^ Jean Rabaut, Tout est possible! Les " gauchistes " f rangais 
1 929-1 944 (Paris: Editions Denoel, 1974), 344. See also Jean-Pierre 
Cassard, Les trotskystes en France pendant la deuxieme guerre 
mondiale ( 1 939-1 944 ) (La Verite, n.d.), 65-66, and Yvan Craipeau, 
Contre vents et marees (Paris: Editions Savelli, 1977), 70-77. Rous 
took a few others with him, including Fred Zeller, who had been a 
leader of the Socialist Party youth recruited during the entry. 


its contents equivalent to a democratic revolution." They espoused 
a movement for "national freedom" by "all classes and strata. "46 

But even among those who maintained a revolutionary perspec- 
tive, the reaction to Nazi occupation generated symmetrical devi- 
ations on the national question that broke sharply, if episodically, 
with the tradition of Trotskyism and Leninism. When the P.M. P. did 
become a subject of debate, it was in the context of this broader 
debate on the national question. 

Colony-starved German imperialism sought, first of all, to 
subject all of Europe to a savagely brutal imperialist domination. 
The more agrarian and backward Eastern Europe had long been the 
object of German imperialist ambitions. But the German occupation 
of industrially advanced West Europe also raised the issue of 
national oppression, though not in a way that is simply analogous 
to the struggle for national liberation in a traditional colonial 
situation, where the agrarian revolution is a central driving force. 
After the fall of France, Trotsky himself had noted that "France is 
being transformed into an oppressed nation. .. .Added to social 
oppression is national oppression, the main burden of which is like- 
wise borne by the workers. Of all the forms of dictatorship, the 
totalitarian dictatorship of a foreign conqueror is the most 
intolerable. "47 

On the eve of the war the French Trotskyists were in political 
and organizational disarray. The official French section, the 
Internationalist Workers Party (POI), had fractured in February 
1939 over the question of entry into Marceau Pivert's PSOP. The 
PSOP had recently emerged from the French Social Democracy in oppo- 
sition to support for the bourgeoisie's war preparations (for much 
of the preceding period the head of the French Socialists, Leon 
Blum, had been leader of the governing Popular Front coalition). 
Entry into the PSOP represented an opportunity to intersect thou- 
sands of leftward-moving workers and petty bourgeois. While the 
minority of the POI, headed by Yvan Craipeau, did enter the PSOP, 
the majority initially refused to do so, leading to a break with 
the International Secretariat in June. The Pivert organization 
disintegrated after the war began. 

Craipeau 's followers regrouped to form the "French Committees 
for the Fourth International," which was considered to be the offi- 
cial French section of the Fourth International at the Emergency 
Conference held in New York in May 1940.48 j n August, this 

46 "Three Theses on the European Situation and the Political 
Tasks" by German Comrades, dated 19 October 1941, but not printed 
until September 1942 in International Bulletin , vol. II, no. 3, 6. 

47 "We Do Not Change Our Course," op. cit., 296-297. 

48 see "Resolution on the French Section," Documents of the 
Fourth International , 364. 


organization fused with Marcel Hic's wing of the ex-POI which had 
opposed entry into the PSOP. Documents written by Marcel Hie 
provided the basis for the fusion, though the new organization kept 
the name "French Committees for the Fourth International." Hie 
espoused an explicitly nationalist and popular-f rontist line, 
declaring that the Trotskyists "stretch out [their] hands to the 
'French' faction of the bourgeoisie. "49 Hie also called on English 
workers to abandon revolutionary defeatism and support the military 
struggle of British imperialism. 50 However, Hic's positions faced 
strong opposition from within the fused group, especially from 
Marcel Gibelin.51 a period of intense internal debate followed, 
which resulted in the French Committees abandoning the more extreme 
class collaboration and social-patriotism expressed in the early 
documents . 

Other groups broke with the Trotskyist program in an opposite 
direction, by denying that any aspect of the national question 
existed in Nazi-occupied Europe. This was the position of the 
"Revolutionary Communist" group composed of Austrians, Germans and 
Czechs who had fled to France in 1938.52 it was also the position 
of some of the Greek Trotskyists, represented by L. Kastritis of 
the Workers Vanguard group, who continue to maintain that "occu- 
pations during the imperialist war are nothing but a phase, an 
incident of a smaller or greater significance of the prolonged 
war.... It neither raises a national question and a question of 
National Liberation, nor, finally, does it change the basic duties 
of the proletariat, i.e. the transformation of the war into a civil 
war. "53 This general approach was shared by the French Barta 
group, 54 precursor of Lutte Ouvriere, which withdrew early on into 
the same kind of sterile economism it maintains today, and by the 
followers of Amadeo Bordiga, some of whom briefly fused with the 
Trotskyists in Italy in 1944. 

49 Rodolphe Prager, ed., L ' Internationale dans la guerre 
1 940-46 , volume 2 of Les congres de la Quatrieme Internationale 
(Paris: Editions La Breche, 1981), 98 (our translation). 


Cassard, op. cit., 65, and Craipeau, op. cit., 76-82. 

51 Cassard, op. cit., 65. 

52 See Fritz Keller, "Le Trotskysme en Autriche, 1934 a 1945," 
Cahiers Leon Trotsky , no. 5 (January-March 1980), 127. This is a 
translation of large sections of Keller's book, Gegen den Strom: 
Fraktionskampf e in der KPO--Trotzkisten und andere Gruppen , 1 91 9- 

1 945 (Vienna: Europa Verlag, 1978). 

53 see "The War Question and Pabloites Revisionism" (1966) in 
Documents of the "Workers Vanguard" Greece (1979), 189-190. 


See Craipeau, op. cit., 80 


In August 1940 Henri Molinier, central leader of the Inter- 
national Communist Committee (CCI, the Molinier-Frank group), wrote 
a document entitled "What Is To Be Done?" which equated the Soviet 
Union and Hitler's Germany as new, "progressive" forms of "state 
capitalism." Molinier (for whom Trotsky had always expressed a 
great deal of esteem, unlike for his brother Raymond) called for 
work in all mass organizations, including fascist ones. 55 ^ s might 
be expected, this document gave rise to an intense faction fight 
which lasted until the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 
1941 eliminated the basis for this eclectic and impressionistic 
state capitalism. 

A little over a year later, the CCI sent to Germany some of 
its members who had been requisitioned by the Nazis for forced 
labor (the STO--Obligatory Labor Service). 56 Some members of the 
Dutch Committee of Revolutionary Marxists ( CRM ) also went to work 
in Germany. The CRM had emerged in 1942 from the remnants of 
Henk Sneevliet's organization and declared for the Fourth Interna- 
tional a year later, though it remained out of contact until the 
end of the war. 57 There was mass evasion of STO in most of occupied 
Europe, but it was either brute force or raw hunger which impelled 
most of those who participated--and some revolutionaries were forced 
to go through this experience with the rest of the European prole- 
tariat. Working in Germany was anathema to the bourgeois nation- 
alist Resistance movements and their Stalinist collaborators, but 
another consideration entered into the equation for the Trotskyists: 
the strategic importance of the German revolution, in which STO 
workers could be expected to play an important role. The CCI formed 
a cell near Berlin and attempted to propagandize among French and 
German workers, while a member of the CRM participated in a strike 
in Bremerhaven. 

Were the Trotskyists such wishful thinkers to expect (and work 
for) a proletarian revolution to arise from the ashes of a defeated 
Germany? Only worshippers of the accomplished fact can think so. 
The Nazi authorities were forced to shoot or hang some 80,000 German 
soldiers for insubordination or desertion during the war. In 1942 
the Militant published two letters which had been smuggled to an 
American friend by a socialist worker who had been drafted into the 
Wehrmacht.58 This German soldier, a member of the League of 


Cassard, op. cit., 63-64, 69-72. 

56 Ibid., 113-114. See also Andre Calves, Sans bottes ni 
medailles (Montreuil: Editions La Breche, 1984), 56. 

57 see Wim Bot , "Generals Without Troops: Dutch Trotskyism 
during the Occupation," to be published in the forthcoming Revolu- 
tionary History , vol. I, no. 4. 

58 "Letter from a Worker in the German Underground," Mili- 
tant , 18 July 1942, and "A Worker's Message from Poland and the 
Ghetto," Militant , 1 August 1942. Soon after these letters appeared, 


Revolutionary Socialists, spent three weeks in Warsaw at the end of 
1941. He records with horror the starvation, despair and utter 
hopelessness of the Ghetto masses. Managing despite all odds to 
make contact with some Jewish Bundists and Polish Socialists, when 
he returned to Berlin this young worker raised 500 marks from among 
those in his underground resistance group. The money was sent to 
the Polish Socialist Party, and to the Trotskyists and Bundists 
active in the Warsaw Ghetto. 

The memoirs of Andre Calves, one of the Trotskyists who helped 
build the cell in the German armed forces at Brest, are full of 
instances of German soldiers' sympathy and material aid for acts of 
proletarian resistance. What of the German soldier at the Porte 
d'Orleans who handed over his pistol on demand with an " auf Wie- 
dersehen Genossen " [see you later comrades]? What of the German 
soldiers and sailors in Brest, shot for their work with the Trotsky- 
ists in distributing Arbeiter im Westen ?59 The putrid and venal 
nationalism of the mass bourgeois and Stalinist Resistance forces-- 
"A chacun son boche "60--made both fraternization and the task of 
organizing inchoate opposition within the German armed forces much 
more difficult than they had to be. 

In the face of the overwhelming repressive forces unleashed 
against the proletariat (and these included the national bourgeois 
forces of "law and order" and the Stalinists as well as the invading 
imperialist armies), the Trotskyist cadre, for all their youth, 
inexperience and episodic disorientation, continued to be animated 
by the spirit and program of revolutionary internationalism. The 
reconstitution of a European Secretariat in early 1 942 was a 
tremendous accomplishment. The 1945 Saigon uprising led by the 
Vietnamese Trotskyists; the publication of Arbeiter und Soldat ; the 
cell built in the German armed forces at Brest; the publication of 
the Trotskyist newspaper Czorwony Sztandard in the Warsaw Ghetto; 
the work of the CRM and CCI in Germany; the participation of the 
Indian Trotskyists in the "Quit India" movement; the American Trot- 
skyists who sailed on the Murmansk run; the involvement of Trotsky- 
ists (including British and American soldiers) in the revolutionary 
wave which swept Italy in 1943; and the participation of both the 
WIL and the SWP in strikes and other trade-union struggles which 
objectively cut across the imperialist war effort: all of these are 
ample testimony to the courage and even audacity of the small Fourth 
Internationalist forces in the face of almost incalculable odds. 61 

the Militant gave prominent coverage to the first reports of the 
Nazi genocide of European Jewry. 


Calves, op. cit., 69, 72-78, 84. 

60 Roughly translated, "Everybody get a Kraut": infamous 
headline of the French Stalinist paper, 1 ' Humanite . 

6^ See Pierre Vert, "Trotskyists in World War Two," pages 
53-55 below. 


During the war and its immediate aftermath the ranks of the 
Fourth International were decimated by savage imperialist repres- 
sion—and Stalinist assassination. Many of the sections were virtu- 
ally decapitated; some, like the Vietnamese, destroyed altogether. 
It is almost impossible in hindsight to appreciate the magnitude of 
the losses. Rodolphe Prager lists names of those known to have 
fallen — over one hundred — and there were many more. 62 of these, 
almost half were murdered in Greece, especially by the Stalinists 
in the civil war of 1945. But it wasn't only Greece. The Nazis 
eliminated the leadership of the French and Belgian parties. They 
also executed almost the entire Central Committee of Henk Snee- 
vliet's Dutch Marx-Lenin-Luxemburg Front. Of those Trotskyists who 
did survive the war, many returned from the hell of Ravensbruck, 
Buchenwald, Auschwitz. The years preceding the war had seen the 
leadership of the International thinned by a wave of Stalinist 
assassination (Leon Sedov, Erwin Wolf, Rudolf Klement, Trotsky 
himself). By 1945 few of the leaders of 1939 survived. Abram 
Leon, Leon Lesoil, Marcel Hie, Ta Thu Tau , Chen Chi-chang, Walter 
Held, Pietro Tresso ( Blasco ) --all were gone. 

The losses in Europe and Asia underline a critical failure on 
the part of the SWP leadership— they were unable to take on the 
leading role in the International, a responsibility that was posed 
for the SWP after Trotsky's death. The SWP was the one section 
which had been founded by cadre who came over a_s part of a_ faction 
from the Communist International; the section which had been 
strengthened most by close collaboration with Trotsky; the section 
which, because it was situated on the North American continent, had 
the most material resources, a large maritime fraction and thus 
some limited ability to move around the globe during the war. Yet 
they did not see themselves as responsible and barely kept up the 
pretense of maintaining a functioning International Secretariat in 
New York. They did not even attempt to set up an outpost in a neu- 
tral European country. No doubt the utter disaster of Cannon's 
1939 trip to France, made at Trotsky's urging in an attempt to 
resolve the fracturing of the French section around the question of 
entry into the PSOP, played a role here. 63 j n addition, the defec- 
tion of the Shachtman and Abern faction was keenly felt in the SWP. 
But they should have tried . 


The British and American Trotskyists emerged from the war 
relatively intact. The Stalinists had relentlessly condemned the 
Trotskyists for their defeatism, while both the British and Ameri- 
can bourgeoisies had prosecuted Trotskyists for their opposition to 
the war. Yet the experience with the P.M. P. hardly steeled the SWP 


Prager, op. cit., 459-473. 

63 see Cannon's report on the trip in Socialist Workers Party 
Internal Bulletin , no. 10 (June 1939), 12-24. 


and RCP for what lay ahead--its sole redeeming quality was that it 
didn ' t work . Its Utopian character meant that it was not likely to 
be implemented, and in any case it had ceased to be the centerpiece 
of propaganda on the war by the end of 1943. The British and Ameri- 
can Trotskyists continued to pursue the class struggle, and to view 
themselves as antiwar and anti-imperialist. 

The documents presented to the March 1 944 founding conference 
of the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP), reprinted in this 
bulletin, reflect the lack of applicability of the P.M. P. in the 
political climate created by certain German defeat. The resolution 
presented jointly by the WIL and the Trotskyist Opposition of the 
RSL, which was adopted as the position of the RCP, presents a very 
mild version of the P.M. P. Point 7 of this resolution, which at- 
tempts to detail the "progressive motives" of the defensism of the 
masses, does, however, reveal the central problem with the policy. 
The resolution of the Militant Group of the former RSL is correct as 
far as it goes, but perfunctory and formal. 

The resolution of the RSL ' s Left Faction gives the issue the 
attention it deserves, making some very cogent arguments for revolu- 
tionary defeatism. But the Left Faction errs in equating defeatism 
with a "neutral" attitude toward the "enemy" imperialist camp in 
war. Revolutionaries are defeatists toward all the imperialist 
combatants. Moreover, the Left Faction reveals a fatuous ultra- 
leftism in opposing democratic demands during wartime (including 
the demand for air-raid shelters!). Demands to extend to the masses 
the provisioning and protection privileges enjoyed by army officers 
can be quite powerful in wartime. Moreover, if won, these measures 
represent a serious drain on the imperialist war effort. The 
February Revolution in Russia began as a strike by women textile 
workers in Petrograd demanding bread. 

Max Shachtman's polemics against the P.M. P., also reprinted 
here, do not suffer from the excesses of those of the Left Faction. 
Shachtman had recoiled in horror at the Hitler-Stalin pact, which 
precipitated WWII, and his Workers Party remained highly attuned to 
the views and moods of the large Depression-bred intellectual milieu 
typified by the Partisan Review . Shachtman seized on the patent 
revisionism of the P.M. P. to score some correct points against his 
bitter factional opponent Cannon, whom he attempted to portray as 
some kind of simpleton in "theoretical" matters. It was extremely 
convenient for Shachtman to brush aside Trotsky's role in the 
elaboration of the P.M. P.: Cannon was a far more useful foil than 
the newly martyred Trotsky. It should be noted, however, that at 
the time Shachtman had available to him almost all of Trotsky's 
writings on the subject--they had been published in the October 1940 
Fourth International . By 1950 Shachtman had developed his own, 
anti-Soviet, version of a "proletarian military policy. "64 


See "Proletarian Military Policy," pages 45-52 below. 


The document of Comrade C. adds a new dimension to the dis- 
cussion of the P.M. P. --he observes that "trade-union control of 
national defense" under bourgeois rule could only be instituted in 
a fascist or corporatist sense. The acuity of Comrade C.'s observa- 
tion (no doubt the result of first-hand experience of the Nazi 
jackboot) is borne out by the fact that the only trade-union federa- 
tion which adopted the program of the P.M. P. during the war was the 
Confederation of Mexican Workers--the corporatist creature of the 
ruling party of the Mexican bourgeoisie (today's Institutional 
Revolutionary Party). 65 Aside from the too acrimonious debate on 
the question of whether the SWP ' s resolution should have been print- 
ed, both Comrade C.'s letter and the reply of the leading committee 
are admirable statements, especially given the context in which 
they were written. 

There were other opponents of the "Proletarian Military Pol- 
icy." The Indian BLPI evidently published a polemic on the question 
in 1944.66 And according to Rodolphe Prager the Belgian section, 
initially at least, refused to include the passage containing the 
demand for "trade-union control of military training" when they 
published Trotsky's May 1940 Manifesto. Unfortunately, many of the 
issues in dispute during the war, including the "Proletarian Mili- 
tary Policy," were never fought out to a real conclusion. While 
the European Secretariat published an informational bulletin on the 
P.M. P. in April 1945 and invited discussion on the subject, this 
never materialized. 67 Jacques Privas attempted to reopen the ques- 
tion at the Second World Congress in 1 948 but both the British and 
American sections evidently opposed this, and Privas' motion refer- 
ring the question to the incoming International Executive Committee 
narrowly failed. We can only agree with Prager when he regrets 



Militant , 14 February 1942. 

This polemic, titled "Britain at the Crossroads" ( Per- 
manent Revolution , January-March 1944), is cited in Part 1 of 
Charles Wesley Ervin, "A History of Trotskyism in India," manu- 
script submitted for publication to Revolutionary History . 

67 Bulletin du Secretariat Europeen de la IVe Internationale , 
no. 5: "Discussion sur la politique militaire du proletariat" (April 
1945). This bulletin includes some of Trotsky's last writings on 
the subject, excerpts from Cannon's September 1940 plenum speech, 
and a 1916 article by Lenin, "The 'Disarmament' Slogan." Lenin's 
article raises the demand for "voluntary military-training associa- 
tions, with free election of instructors paid by the state." What- 
ever one thinks of this demand, it is hardly relevant to the 
"Proletarian Military Policy" since the workers militia envisioned 
by Lenin was clearly not an auxiliary to the bourgeois army, but 
counterposed to it. 


that the issue was never resolved. 68 In hindsight it is clear that 
the uncorrected departure from Leninist principle over the P.M. P. 
facilitated the acceptance of the revisionist campaign of the Inter- 
national Secretariat leadership around Michel Pablo a few years 
later. Pablo deprecated the role of revolutionary Marxist program 
and organization, initially in the light of the consolidation of 
the Russian seizure of Eastern Europe, and he advocated the entry 
of the small Trotskyist nuclei into the Stalinist parties. This 
led to a split in the Trotskyist forces, the destruction of the 
Fourth International, and the subsequent shift of most of the ele- 
ments involved onto the political terrain previously inhabited by 
the pre-war London Bureau. 6 9 


That Trotsky's motivations in putting forward the P.M. P. did 
not fully coincide with those of the SWP in adopting it, is clear 
from the series of discussions he held with SWP leaders in June 
1940.^0 j n these discussions Trotsky advocated that the SWP give 
critical support to the presidential campaign of American Communist 
Party (CP) leader Earl Browder. Trotsky raised this proposal 
because the CP, as a result of the Hitler-Stalin pact, had tempo- 
rarily dropped its popular-f rontism in favor of exposing the imperi- 
alist war aims of the American bourgeoisie. The SWP refused to 
critically support Browder, and in the discussions Trotsky put his 
finger on the reason why: the SWP feared to break its bloc with the 
virulently anti-Communist pro-Roosevelt forces in the American trade 
unions. This observation by Trotsky lends weight to the view that 
the SWP ' s fulsome adoption of the P.M. P. stemmed in part from 
opportunist appetites. One can see a similar opportunist thread in 
the workerist trade unionism of the WIL. In all fairness to Trot- 
sky, it must be pointed out that he was murdered before the P.M. P. 
was fully elaborated by the SWP. 

Daniel Guerin has suggested that Trotsky's intransigent Soviet 
defensism played a role in the genesis of the "Proletarian Military 

68 Prager, op. cit., 14. For the vote at the Second World 
Congress, held 2-21 April 1948, see the minutes in Rodolphe Prager, 
ed., Bouleversements et crises de 1 ' apres-guerre ( 1 946-1 950 ) , volume 
3 of Les congres de la IVe Internationale (Paris: Editions La 
Breche, 1988), 44. Privas 1 motion failed by a vote of 13 to 16, 
with three abstentions. 


1-1 3. 


See "Genesis of Pabloism," Spartacist , no. 21 (Fall 1972), 
"Discussions with Trotsky," op. cit. 


Policy. "71 Certainly no one reading Trotsky's writings over his 
last year can doubt that he saw catastrophe approaching as the 
disastrous effects of Stalin's beheading of the Red Army became 
apparent in the wake of the Hitler-Stalin pact. Guerin certainly 
writes well on the startling prescience of Trotsky's predictions as 
to the course of the war. But Guerin is wrong to posit the exis- 
tence of "two" Trotskys, one a proletarian revolutionist and the 
other a Soviet official. Trotsky had since 1917 maintained both 
elements as integral to his revolutionary proletarian worldview. 
Yet Guerin is not completely wrong. In a letter to the New York 
Times on 1 October 1939, Trotsky, arguing that only U.S. entry into 
the war on the Allied side would break Stalin from his pact with 
Hitler, did implicitly suggest this course to the U.S. bourgeoi- 
sie. 72 while Trotsky's letter was in no way a programmatic state- 
ment of the Fourth International, it indicates that the extreme 
danger posed by the war to the homeland of the October Revolution 
loomed very large in his mind. This must have played a role as 
Trotsky elaborated the P.M. P. 


In his Cahiers Leon Trotsky article, Pierre Broue guts the 
P.M. P. of its programmatic content, and he is willfully blind to its 
Anglo-American bias. For Broue Trotsky's last writings on univer- 
sal imperialist militarism are simply a sort of call to "pick up the 
gun," and he argues that the Trotskyists should have entered "a 
mass movement based on national and social resistance" to fascism-- 
that is, the various Partisan movements in Europe. 73 He sees the 
failure of the Trotskyists to enter such formations as central, 
implying that this determined their lack of success in leading a 
proletarian revolution in any country at the end of the war. 

But Broue avoids a crucial question--the class independence of 
the proletarian fighting forces. Although the Partisan movements 
in France, Italy and Greece followed very different trajectories, 
where the leadership was not simply bourgeois nationalist it was 
Stalinist, and the Stalinists had subordinated their forces to the 
military and political alliance with the "democratic" imperialists. 
Participation by the small Trotskyist nuclei in nationalist bour- 
geois or Stalinist military formations in a subordinated or assimi- 
lated role would have meant abandoning a class position, crossing 
the line to class collaborationism. Moreover, it would have tended 

71 See the preface and postscript in Daniel Guerin, ed., Leon 
Trotsky sur la deuxieme guerre mondiale (Paris: Seuil, 1974), 7-17 
and 212-217. 

72 "The U.S. Will Participate in the War," Writings of Leon 
Trotsky (1939-40) , 94-97. 

73 Broue, op. cit. , 56 (our translation). 


to cut across the necessary strategy of subverting the Axis armies 
through revolutionary fraternization. 

Without securing sufficient weight for the class-conscious 
fraction as would allow the right of veto over the activities of 
the Partisan group or withdrawal from it, such involvement could 
only be, and was, a noose around the necks of the revolutionary 
workers, to be drawn tight sooner rather than later. Many of the 
Trotskyists who did enter or attempt to work in such formations 
were simply slaughtered by the Stalinists. This was true partic- 
ularly in Greece, which Broue upholds as his main example. Only in 
Yugoslavia did a Partisan struggle against the German occupation 
forces end in a successful overturn of capitalist property rela- 
tions, the first of a series of postwar social overturns led by 
peasant-based guerrilla formations. But what resulted was a workers 
state deformed from its inception by a bureaucratic regime qualita- 
tively similar to that in the Soviet Union. In West Europe the 
Partisan forces were made to hand the reins of power back to the 
bourgeoisie, while in most of Eastern Europe the Soviet Red Army 
filled the vacuum of state power left when the Nazis retreated. 

The question that Trotskyist strategy had to address was: who 
would prevail upon the collapse of the Axis occupation--the forces 
of the revolutionary proletariat, or those of the Allied imperia- 
lists? The Stalinist forces were still perceived by the masses as 
the proletarian vanguard formation (the exceptions being Vietnam, 
Ceylon and Bolivia, countries where the proletariat came to class 
consciousness after the Comintern adopted an explicit policy of 
collaboration with the "democratic" colonial powers). The prestige 
of the Communist Parties had only been enhanced by the military 
victories of the Soviet army, and the Stalinists used this prestige 
to tie the masses to the forces of bourgeois nationalist "law and 
order," building illusions in "liberation" by the Allied armies. 

There was a great disproportion between the end and the means: 
concluding the war through victorious proletarian revolution versus 
the scattered scores and hundreds that were the Fourth Interna- 
tional. During the war the Trotskyist forces were for the most 
part too small to have anything but a propagandistic orientation to 
the layers of advanced workers, most of whom followed Stalinist 
leadership. In hindsight and from afar, we cannot presume to deter- 
mine exactly what else they might have done, but the policy of the 
tiny Dutch CRM seems admirable. The CRM opposed political assassi- 
nation and other individual acts of terror against the Nazi occupy- 
ing authorities — these acts had no military impact and simply 
brought down increased German repression on the general population 
(dealing with proven informers for the Germans was of course another 
matter) . The CRM advocated economic sabotage in the form of work- 
ing slowly, and strikes and other forms of mass proletarian action 
where feasible. Defense of the Soviet Union was an important part 
of their calculations: 

Since 90 per cent of the German army has been thrown 
against the Soviet army, the workers (German and foreign) 


have the duty deliberately to weaken German war produc- 
tion, by means of so-called "economic sabotage" in the 
weapons and munitions factories and in the transports to 
the Russian front. 74 

The CRM produced some 44 issues of De Rode October from their 
formation in 1942 until the end of the war. They also produced an 
internal discussion bulletin. While the CRM had a very small mem- 
bership--between 50 and 75 by 1 945--the biweekly De Rode October 
had a circulation of some 2,500 in 1943, and at the end of the 
occupation their cadre emerged virtually intact. 75 

The small Trotskyist forces had to await the opportunities 
provided by mass proletarian struggle. Such struggle did occur, 
even under Nazi occupation. A massive strike wave greeted the 
attempt to impose the forced labor program in Greece in December 
1942, and the Nazis had to give way to it. The insurrectionary 
state of mind of the Greek masses was also reflected in the April 
1944 mutiny against the Metaxas- supporting officers of the Greek 
armed forces in Egypt. In Italy there was an uprising against the 
German occupying forces in Naples in 1944, and insurrections in 
several cities in the north after the Allied landing. In Genoa the 
Germans actually surrendered to the Partisan forces. In the Nether- 
lands there were three major strikes against the German occupation 
forces: in 1941 a strike in Amsterdam and other northern towns 
protested the first arrests and deportations of Jews; a two-day 
general strike in April 1943 protested the sending of Dutch 
prisoners of war to Germany for forced labor; and in September 1944 
there was a national railway strike, called by the bourgeois Resis- 
tance in support of the Allied invasion. 

The CRM expected that revolutionary resistance would erupt 
first in the Balkans and Italy--the weakest links in the Axis em- 
pire. They were right in their projection, but, as they had also 
noted, a revolutionary breakthrough in southeastern Europe would 
probably "bleed to death" unless the German proletariat came to its 
assistance. As early as February 1943 De Rode October put its 
finger on the main factor working against such a revolutionary 
upsurge in Europe--the projected Allied invasion . 76 The much- 
heralded Allied "second front" would only be established when the 
Soviet Red Army had militarily weakened the Wehrmacht, i.e., at the 
point when a revolutionary development within Germany was most 
likely. De Rode Octobe r warned that it was a race against the 
clock between a German revolution and Allied-led counterrevolution. 
If revolution had broken out in Europe, including Germany, prior to 
the Allied landings, the imperialist armies would have been subject 
to the disintegrating effects of a major political upheaval, while 

74 cited in Bot, op. cit. 

75 Ibid. 

76 ibid. 


at the same time the High Command would have made every effort to 
smash the revolution. As it was, however, the Allied imperialists 
invaded first. Events after the July 1943 landing in Italy con- 
firmed the CRM in its prognosis--the Allied armies provided the 
indispensable military might under cover of which the Italian bour- 
geoisie, with the aid of the Communist Party, was able to disarm 
the insurrectionary proletariat. 

While the CRM hailed the advances of the Red Army, they also 
repeatedly condemned the nationalism of Stalin, who planned with 
Churchill and Roosevelt the partition of Europe into spheres of 
influence. They saw that the division of Europe between Stalin and 
the Allies would work against a revolutionary revival of the German 
workers movement at the war's end. While the CRM saw in Stalin's 
May 1943 dissolution of the Communist International an attempt to 
guarantee to the Allies that the Red Army would not stand in the 
way of a capitalist postwar Europe, they also believed it unlikely 
that Soviet soldiers could be made to turn their guns on an insur- 
gent German proletariat. Thus they thought that the chances of a 
successful German revolution would be better if the Red Army entered 
Germany before the Allies. 77 


The British and American imperialists were able to enter Europe 
as "liberators" because they had not been forced to resort to much 
overt and felt military dictatorship during the war. They never 
had to deal with a recalcitrant domestic population; the morale of 
their armies remained high, and this played no small role in their 
victory. The internment of the Japanese Americans, the brutal 
British repression of the "Quit India" movement, the even more 
destructive Bengal famine which the British created following the 
repression—these acts paled beside the genocidal horror of the 
Holocaust, revealed to the world first as the Red Army advanced into 
Poland, and especially as the Allied armies advanced into Germany. 
When the Allied imperialists landed in Italy, the American atom- 
bombing of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was still 
two years away. Yet even this atrocity, while it represented a 
giant leap in the murderous art of killing large populations, is on 
a qualitatively different plane from the Holocaust-- the selective 
killing of a predesignated people organized on a factory basis. 

But if the British and American bourgeoisies had succeeded in 
hiding their imperialist war aims behind a "democratic" and "anti- 
fascist" lie, this was also thanks to Stalin. Political support of 
the Communist Parties for the Allied imperialist war effort after 
Hitler attacked the Soviet Union in June 1941 had helped the impe- 
rialists maintain their lies. And if the war remained overwhelm- 
ingly popular in the metropolitan centers on the Allied side, it is 
also necessary to note that the sordid nationalist banner under 

77 Ibid. 


which the Stalinist-led Partisans conducted the Resistance struggle 
did nothing to further revolt among the population of the Axis 
powers. There was no organized mass opposition in Germany, and the 
Japanese masses seemed to remain loyal to the state to the end. 

Nonetheless , it was the Soviet Red Army which broke the back 
of Hitler ' s war machine , though the British and American ruling 
classes now try to pretend otherwise. Churchill and Roosevelt had 
to share the world with Stalin, and the military relationship of 
forces was codified in the agreements made at Yalta and Potsdam. 
The Russians had lost 20 million dead and probably a quarter of 
their industrial capacity, while the North American continent 
remained unscathed by the war. As the founding conference of the 
Fourth International had foreseen, the United States emerged as the 
predominant power, economically and militarily. The U.S. bourgeoi- 
sie was able to dole out the rations it chose to the bourgeoisies 
of Europe, while granting the British the "special relationship" of 
junior partner. 

Much has been made of the supposed "catastrophism" of Trot- 
sky's prognosis that a revolutionary wave would follow the end of 
WWII. But as Trotsky himself noted: 

Every historical prognosis is always conditional, 
and the more concrete the prognosis, the more conditional 
it is. A prognosis is not a promissory note which can be 
cashed on a given date. Prognosis outlines only the 
definite trends of the development. But along with these 
trends a different order of forces and tendencies operate, 
which at a certain moment begin to predominate. 78 

Revolution is ever a desperate solution to a desperate situation, 
and should the situation diminish, the possibility of a revolu- 
tionary solution vanishes. If proletarian revolutions failed to 
materialize at the end of the war it was because of the extreme 
weakness of the Trotskyist forces, the class treason of the Stalin- 
ists, and the fact that the imperialist bourgeoisies had also 
learned some lessons from WWI : the victorious imperialist govern- 
ments did not leave their defeated class "brothers" with weak and 
ineffectual governments. The Allied occupations of Germany and 
Japan, and furthermore the partition of Germany, were designed to 
prevent the outbreak of any social struggle threatening bourgeois 
rule. When a massive wave of strikes and factory occupations broke 
out in Japan in 1946, it was crushed by the combined forces of the 
Japanese government and the Allied Supreme Command. In early 1947 
there were massive demonstrations involving hundreds of thousands 
of workers in the Ruhr, the industrial heartland of Germany. The 
workers demanded the expropriation without compensation of the 
mining, steel and chemical industries and popular control over food 
distribution, which was in the hands of the Allied occupation 

7 ^ "Balance Sheet of the Finnish Events," In Defense of Marx- 
ism (New York: Pioneer Publishers, 1942), 175. 


forces. When the Ruhr strikes spread, the French, British and 
American commands outlawed all strikes and protests, under threat 
of the death penalty. 79 

In Italy and France the bourgeoisie succeeded in restabilizing 
its class rule only with the aid of the Stalinists who entered the 
postwar governments, literally disarming the war-weary and revolu- 
tionary-minded masses. In Greece the British army smashed an incip- 
ient social revolution. 

In South Asia in the early years of the war the armies of the 
French, British, Americans and Dutch had been shattered by the 
Japanese. The Asian subjects of the European colonial powers had 
generally welcomed the Japanese victories (Sukarno collaborated 
with the Japanese in Indonesia, while Bose's Indian National Army 
actually fought alongside the Japanese), but occupation generally 
put an end to any illusions about the beneficence of the Greater 
East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. In the British and French colonies 
of the Middle East the hatred of the masses for their imperialist 
exploiters was such that there was massive and demonstrative pro- 
Axis sentiment--the Allies maintained a hold over their possessions 
only with bloody repression. As the war ended, national independ- 
ence struggles spread throughout the colonial world. 

At this juncture the Anglo-American imperialists were denied 
the opportunity to fully implement their victory over the Axis 
powers by repossessing their colonies: a massive "troops home" 
movement swept their armies at the end of the war. The Trotsky- 
ists, few as they were, participated in this movement. When the 
troops impatiently demanded an early and rapid demobilization, the 
imperialists were unable to justify continued militarization on 
"anti-fascist" grounds--they had to give way to the desire of the 
troops to go home. American troops withdrew from China in 1947, 
with the civil war still raging there. The British were forced to 
give way to demands for Indian independence, and also had to 
withdraw their armies from the Near East. The Dutch attempt to 
reconquer Indonesia failed, and they were forced to recognize an 
independent republic in 1949. 

The leadership of the Soviet degenerated workers state did not 
inspire the struggles of the oppressed masses against colonial rule 
at the end of the Second World War. Stalin feared the colonial 
uprisings almost as much as the imperialists did--he saw no reason 
to upset the postwar division of the world agreed to at Yalta. The 
imperialist Allies were welcomed back to Vietnam by the Stalinists. 
The Viet Minh worked hand in hand with the British and French to 
suppress the Trotskyist-led Saigon uprising in August 1945, and it 
was the Viet Minh who were responsible for arresting and executing 
the Trotskyist leaders. (Little more than a year later the Viet 

79 ute Schmidt and Tilman Fichter, Per erzwungene Kapital- 
ismus : Klassenkampf e in den Westzonen 1 945-1 948 (Berlin: Verlag 
Klaus Wagenbach, 1971), 23-30. 


Minh found themselves under attack by the French imperialists, who 
bombed Haiphong in November 1946, thus initiating a campaign of 
escalating provocation which led directly to a relentless thirty 
years of war.) French CP leader Maurice Thorez was a vice presi- 
dent in the postwar De Gaulle cabinet which savagely suppressed a 
nationalist uprising in Algeria in 1945, bombing villages and kill- 
ing tens of thousands. But Stalin's attempt to conciliate the 
Allies by betraying other peoples' revolutions did not prevent the 
imperialists from turning on him. The capitalists had never given 
up their desire to reconquer the one-sixth of the globe ripped away 
from the capitalist world market by the October Revolution. And 
they could not fail to see in the military and industrial might of 
the USSR the ultimate source of all threats to their class rule. 

Churchill, ousted from the British government by the massive 
Labour victory in the June 1945 election, had inaugurated the Cold 
War with his famous "iron curtain" speech in March 1946. But public 
opinion could not be changed, nor weaponry and renewed armies 
created, overnight. Meanwhile the imperialists made much of Sta- 
lin's refusal to integrate the economy of the Soviet occupied zone 
with that of the rest of Germany. In 1947 the United States both 
inaugurated the Marshall Plan and sent military aid and advisers to 
Greece and Turkey under the "Truman Doctrine." There was a not-so- 
implicit military threat behind these moves (the Red Army still 
stood on the borders of both countries) and this was concretized by 
the coming together of the NATO alliance. So Stalin decided to 
liquidate capitalism in most of Eastern Europe, creating a cordon 
sanitaire between the USSR and the imperialist armies and 
establishing a series of states qualitatively similar to that of 
the Soviet Union. The "Free World's" loss of East Europe sent the 
imperialists into a frenzy. Then, in 1949, the Chinese Kuomintang 
collapsed in front of Mao Tse-tung's peasant-based army. The Ameri- 
cans had fought and defeated Japan for the right to exploit 
China--now they found themselves unable to intervene to stop the 
Chinese Revolution. This determined Washington on a course of 
military confrontation and by 1 950 it was possible to fight over 

Military conflicts since WWII have largely been expressions of 
American imperialism's overriding hostility to the Soviet degener- 
ated workers state, and especially of imperialism's hostility toward 
new overturns of capitalist property relations. The imperialist- 
backed invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs failed to throw back the 
Cuban Revolution, and since 1961 massive Soviet economic and mili- 
tary assistance has helped the Cuban deformed workers state maintain 
itself, 90 miles offshore, a constant thorn in the side of the U.S. 
imperialist colossus. But above all it is the thirty-year war of 
imperialist aggression against the Vietnamese Revolution, protracted 
by Stalinist capitulation at the Geneva negotiating table in 1954, 
which epitomizes imperialism's desperate attempts to maintain its 
bloody grip on the world. The world proletariat owes a debt of 
gratitude to the heroic Vietnamese workers and peasants who 
inflicted a humiliating defeat upon the United States, a blow from 
which U.S. imperialism has yet to recover. The "Vietnam syndrome" 


prevented the U.S. from unleashing the full force of its military 
machine against the Sandinista insurrection in 1979, though the 
U.S. has since kept up a relentless and devastating campaign of 
military and economic pressure on the unstable petty-bourgeois 
government of Nicaragua. 

Most of the struggles against colonial rule in the postwar 
period have been led by petty-bourgeois nationalist forces who have 
sought to maintain capitalist property relations, cutting a deal 
with the imperialists (the Algerian FLN, the liberation movements 
in the former Portuguese African colonies). Marxists have militar- 
ily supported the independence forces in these struggles, while 
fighting for revolutionary proletarian organization and leadership. 
Since Marxists have been def ensist on the side of the anti- 
imperialist forces, no one claiming the mantle of Trotskyism has 
seriously suggested the application of the "Proletarian Military 
Policy" on the imperialist side. 


Today the threat of world war brings with it the spectre of 
thermonuclear holocaust. The best scientific minds can only specu- 
late as to what might result if even only a small f raction--several 
hundred to a thousand--of the nuclear warheads in current arsenals 
were detonated over urban areas. The destruction wrought by two 
small fission bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki would pale in compar- 
ison to that caused by several modern higher-yield fusion weapons. 

Those humans who might survive the immediate blast and its 
aftermath would be faced with lethal levels of radioactivity spread- 
ing far beyond the targeted cities. In addition to the fallout 
spread globally by prevailing winds, firestorms would throw great 
clouds of dust and ash into the atmosphere, blocking out sunlight 
and leading to a "nuclear winter." A similar climatic catastrophe 
caused by meteor impact is thought to have led to mass extinctions 
65 million years ago. The effects could conceivably range from the 
partial destruction of human civilization, to the total reduction 
of humanity to a qualitatively lower level of social organization, 
up to the extinction of higher mammalian life on the planet. What 
is clear is that some truly awful catastrophe is impending. Given 
the increasing probability that the outbreak of a major war would 
mean uncontrolled, vastly expanding nuclear exchanges, one ought to 
look grimly at the greater causes and greater consequences. But 
even the least is a catastrophe. 

However, that doesn't mean they won't push the button. World 
imperialism has already brought human civilization to the brink of 
the abyss with two world wars. A rational human being would not 
consciously embark on a course leading to nuclear world war. But 
capitalism long ago created economic forces which strain against 
the boundaries of the nation-states in which they are fettered: 
world imperialism isn't rational, and neither are the men who rule 


over us in its interest. As Trotsky wrote in "War and the Fourth 
International" : 

The fear of the consequences of a new war is the only 
factor that fetters the will of imperialism. But the 
efficacy of this brake is limited. .. .All governments fear 
war. But none of the governments has any freedom of 
choice. Without a proletarian revolution, a new world 
war is inevitable. 

While the irreconcilable hostility of U.S. imperialism to the 
Soviet Union is the main factor now posing the threat of WWII I 
before humanity, one cannot ignore interimperialist contradictions. 
The strength of Japanese industry and world trade cannot be sup- 
pressed peacefully. And there is evidence that German imperialism 
is ready for renewed imperialist adventure. 

The threat of nuclear war is real and immediate. We don't 
have a lot of time left before an imperialist government (or one of 
its desperate and embattled junior partners) triggers a world 

.The world bourgeoisie has at its disposal enormous political 
experience and economic reserves. If the history of the 20th cen- 
tury proves anything it is this: within the social context there is 
no situation in which the bourgeoisie cannot prevail, if there does 
not exist a revolutionary party capable of wresting power from its 
hands . Revolutionary proletarian parties are not built overnight: 
it took two generations of ferment in the Russian intelligentsia, 
the dress rehearsal of 1905, and years of patient underground work 
among the proletarians of the tsarist empire to produce Lenin's 
Bolsheviks. But if the small forces which adhere today to the 
revolutionary program of Lenin and Trotsky do not succeed in forging 
themselves into parties with the experience, will and authority 
among the masses to lead a successful proletarian revolution in the 
imperialist countries, there will be no future for humanity. 

A revolutionary internationalist leadership of the USSR would 
greatly facilitate working-class revolution in the advanced capital- 
ist countries. But it will take a political revolution, in which 
the working masses of the Soviet Union oust the bureaucratic caste 
which usurped power in 1924 and take power back into their hands, 
to return the Kremlin to the road of Lenin and Trotsky. A success- 
ful political revolution in the Soviet Union also requires the 
forging of a new Bolshevik party, based on the program of the early 
Communist International. 

The Soviet bureaucrats do not believe in the possibility of 
proletarian revolution against imperialism, and they view those who 
fight for it as virtual provocateurs intent on destroying "peaceful 
coexistence." The current Gorbachev policy of abject capitulation 
to imperialist military pressure in Afghanistan, Indochina and 
Angola can only embolden the capitalists who seek to "roll back" 
Communism all the way to the homeland of the October Revolution. 


Gorbachev and his predecessors have always been able to exploit the 
deeply felt fear of war and desire for peace of the Soviet popula- 
tion. But Gorbachev's "new thinking" ignores the fact that American 
military planners continue to dream up scenarios for WWIII--from 
total annihilation by ICBMs to "limited" nuclear conflict with the 
Soviet Union in the Central European plain. Only the eradication 
of capitalist imperialism from the globe will eliminate the threat 
of nuclear holocaust for good. 

The U.S. imperialist state has in its cross hairs the indus- 
trial and military powerhouse of the Soviet degenerated workers 
state. According to the Brookings Institution, the U.S. threatened 
in earnest to use nuclear weapons 19 times between 1949 and 1975. 
It was, after all, the U.S. imperialists who first developed and 
used nuclear weapons on the hapless civilian population of an 
already defeated Japan. Since WWII, the American government has 
always pursued a first-strike strategy, from "quick reaction" bomb- 
ers in the 1950s, to later silo- and submarine-based ICBMs. A 
single nuclear sub carries enough weaponry to destroy every large 
and medium-sized Soviet city; half of the fleet with thousands of 
warheads is at sea at all times. Not content with this, the imperi- 
alists are pushing for space-based weapons. Reagan's "Star Wars" 
project is but the latest U.S. attempt to gain a technological edge 
over the Soviet Union--one with no realistic defensive use, but a 
system of potential value in conjunction with a first strike. 

Faced with the incessant U.S. escalation in the nuclear arms 
race, the Soviets have been forced to keep pace. American bour- 
geois rationalists such as George F. Kennan and Theodore Draper 
have observed that this nuclear numbers game has long since become 
pointless: a modest force (e.g., several hundred warheads) would be 
sufficient to destroy the USSR as a functioning society and the 
thousands of bombs currently in place offer no additional deter- 
rence. 80 True, but it is Utopian for Draper and Kennan to address 
their advice to an irrational ruling class whose avowed policy is 
to "prevail" in protracted nuclear war. A variant of the rational- 
ists' ideas, however, could serve as a policy model for a rational 
Soviet government: (1) no first strike; and (2) a matching response 
to any nuclear attack, kiloton for kiloton, at least as long as 
Soviet command and control remained in existence to do so. This 
policy would apply equally against the so-called "independent" 
British and French forces (both of which will have 500 submarine- 
based warheads by the mid-1990s) and doubtless against Israel or 
any other co-participant in an American nuclear first strike against 
the Soviet Union. 

Such a Soviet defensive missile posture (coupled with suffi- 
cient upgrading of the weaponry) would have enough teeth to give 
the imperialists reason to pause before an all-out attack--it means 

80 See, for example, George F. Kennan, The Nuclear Delusion 
(New York: Pantheon Books, 1983), and Theodore Draper, "Nuclear 
Temptations," New York Review of Books , 19 January 1984, 42-50. 


defense not capitulation. This kind of rational policy might just 
stimulate some dissension even within the U.S. military estab- 
lishment against Washington's headlong rush to Armageddon, not to 
mention generating dissent among the population at large. 

In the absence of a successful proletarian revolution, it is 
certain that Washington will, at some point in the future, prepare 
to launch its nuclear missiles, no doubt claiming as pretext some 
supposedly deadly Soviet provocation. If faced with domestic social 
struggle, the American ruling class could attempt to deflect discon- 
tent toward an external Soviet "enemy." This could well backfire: 
during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, imminent nuclear war was met 
not with flag-waving patriotism, but with profound despair. Masses 
of Americans rightly questioned the sanity of their rulers, but in 
the absence of a workers party to focus the fear and anger into a 
fight against the bourgeoisie, the result was inchoate individual- 
ized apathy and defeat. 

After the subsequent 25 years of dirty wars and government 
deceit, a direct step now toward nuclear war could also engender 
massive domestic opposition. Obviously, revolutionaries cannot 
project a sudden spontaneous "general strike against the war" (the 
slogan of some wishful pacifist thinkers in the Second International 
before WWI). As Trotsky wrote in 1935, "a general strike can be 
put on the agenda as a method of struggle against mobilization and 
war only in the event that the entire preceding developments in the 
country have placed revolution and armed insurrection on the agen- 
da. "81 The mass-based revolutionary party necessary to bring the 
latter situation about has yet to be built. But revolutionaries 
should prepare for a conjuncture in which ruling-class war prepara- 
tions are met by massive class struggle. 

At the first serious moves toward war, pacifist demagogues 
will switch to "national defense." On the eve of WWII Trotsky 
stated, "In peacetime, the imperialist 'pacifists' are not sparing 
of magnanimous phrases; but in the event of a conflict, they will 
take their stand on the side of their government .... "82 while the 
"nuclear freeze" crowd comes "in from the cold," war preparations 
will undoubtedly engender genuine pacifistic sentiments among the 
broader masses. In 1915, Lenin noted that "the temper of the masses 
in favour of peace often expresses the beginning of protest, anger 
and a realisation of the reactionary nature of the war. "83 Commu- 
nists have to participate in resulting movements and demonstrations, 

81 "The ILP and the Fourth International," 18 September 1935, 
Writings of Leon Trotsky ( 1 935-36 ) , 2nd ed. (New York: Pathfinder 
Press, 1977), 140. 

82 "The Congress Against War and Fascism," Writings of Leon 
Trotsky (1937-38) , 430. 

83 v.I. Lenin, "Socialism and War," Collected Works , vol. 21, 


not to deceive the people with abstract pacifist twaddle, but to 
orient popular opposition toward the overthrow of bourgeois class 

If, despite our efforts, the bourgeoisie clings to power and 
confronts us with a situation of incipient WWIII, proletarian revo- 
lutionaries can have only one policy--def eatism toward their own 
capitalist governments. Massive and immediate opposition to the war 
would inevitably spread from the civilian population into the armed 
forces. If the ruling class believed that a significant portion of 
military personnel might refuse to launch , the bourgeois state 
would be compelled to hesitate and turn to massive repression in an 
attempt to ensure the reliability of its military machine. Civil 
war would ensue. In this conjuncture, revolutionaries would fight 
to bring about the scenario outlined by Trotsky: 

If a large-scale revolutionary movement is developing in 
a country, if at its head is a revolutionary party pos- 
sessing the confidence of the masses and capable of going 
through to the end; if the government, losing its head, 
despite the revolutionary crisis, or just because of such 
a crisis, plunges headlong into a war adventure--then the 
mobilization can act as a mighty impetus for the masses, 
lead to a general strike of railwaymen, fraternization 
between the mobilized and the workers, seizure of impor- 
tant key centers, clashes between insurrectionists and 
the police and the reactionary sections of the army, the 
establishment of local workers' and soldiers' councils, 
and finally the complete overthrow of the government, and 
consequently, to stopping the war. 84 

Such a revolutionary struggle, based on intransigent proletarian 
internationalism, would give a powerful impetus to, and in turn be 
aided by, a political revolution to throw out the nationalist 
bureaucrats in the Kremlin. 

Confronting World War III, revolutionary defeatism and the 
military defense of the Soviet Union remain the policy of the inter- 
national proletariat. 

International Executive Committee of the 

International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist) 

[formerly international Spartacist tendency] 

February 1989 
[reprinted September 1993] 


"The ILP and the Fourth International," op. cit. , 140. 

Appendix to Introduction 


This article was first published in Revolutionary Communist Youth 
Newsletter , number 13, August-September 1972. 

The sharpening interimperialist antagonisms, upsurge in imper- 
ialist rivalry and "surprising" new alignments pose for the third 
time in this century the spectre of a world war, this time with 
thermonuclear weaponry. Imperialist war has always been a decisive 
test for the communist movement. Such wars are the consummate 
expression of the inability of capitalism to transcend the contra- 
diction between the productive forces, which have outgrown both 
national boundaries and private property relations, and the rela- 
tions of production which define the two great classes of modern 
society, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. Imperialist war 
brings only increased misery, enslavement and suffering to the 
working class, exacerbating the tensions of class society to a 
fever pitch. Marxists seek to use these periodic violent disrup- 
tions of decaying capitalism to bring about the liberation of the 
proletariat. This is due not to a "the worse the better" outlook, 
but rather is the necessary recognition of the objective conditions 
of crisis weakening bourgeois society which Marxists must seek to 
utilize in order to drive forward to the socialist revolution. 

As the outlines and alignments of yet a third global inter- 
imperialist war begin to take shape, it is essential to examine the 
policy of the Trotskyist movement in World War II and to understand 
the role and nature of the modern bourgeois state and its army, in 
order to prepare ourselves for the coming period of increasing 
international conflicts and war. Failure to take the basic Leninist 
conception of the state as a starting point for any strategy towards 
the bourgeois army leads almost inevitably to major theoretical 
errors, as was the case with the Socialist Workers Party's adoption 
of the "Proletarian Military Policy" (P.M. P.) in 1940. A study of 
the P.M. P. and of Trotsky's writings on the coming war, fascism and 
military policy in 1940 reveal a sliding off from basic Leninist 
concepts of the bourgeois state and army. 

The P.M. P. was a misdirected attempt to turn the American 
working class's desire to fight fascism into a revolutionary per- 
spective of overthrowing its "own" imperialist state. The core of 
the P.M. P. was a call for trade-union control of the compulsory 
military training being instituted by the state. The SWP resolution 
on "Proletarian Military Policy" adopted at the SWP ' s Plenum- 
Conference in Chicago in September 1940 states: 

We fight against sending the worker-soldiers into battle 
without proper training and equipment. We oppose the 



military direction of worker-soldiers by bourgeois offi- 
cers who have no regard for their treatment, their pro- 
tection and their lives. We demand federal funds for the 
military training of workers and worker-officers under 
the control of the trade unions. Military appropriations? 
Yes--but only for the establishment and equipment of 
worker training camps! Compulsory military training of 
workers? Yes--but only under the control of the trade 

James P. Cannon, leader of the SWP, defended the policy, primarily 
against the criticisms of Max Shachtman who had recently broken 
from the SWP and founded the Workers Party. Essentially, the P.M.P, 
contained a reformist thrust; it implied that it was possible for 
the working class to control the bourgeois army. The logic of the 
P.M.P. leads to reformist concepts of workers control of the state-- 
which stand in opposition to the Marxist understanding that the 
proletariat must smash the organs of bourgeois state power in order 
to carry through a socialist revolution. 


It is necessary to see the background against which the P.M.P. 
was developed, and what the expectations of the SWP and Trotsky 
were in World War II, as these expectations were the assumptions 
which led them to the P.M.P. Cannon said at the 1940 SWP 

We didn't visualize, nobody visualized, a world situation 
in which whole countries would be conquered by fascist 
armies. The workers don't want to be conquered by foreign 
invaders, above all by fascists. They require a program 
of military struggle against foreign invaders which 
assures their class independence. That is the gist of 
the problem. 

Many times in the past we were put at a certain 
disadvantage: the demagogy of the Social Democrats against 
us was effective to a certain extent. They said, "You 
have no answer to the question of how to fight against 
Hitler...." Well, we answered in a general way, the 
workers will first overthrow the bourgeoisie at home and 
then they will take care of invaders. That was a good 
program, but the workers did not make the revolution in 
time. Now the two tasks must be telescoped and carried 
out simultaneously. 

("Summary Speech on Military Policy") 

We are willing to fight Hitler. No worker wants to see 
that gang of fascist barbarians overrun this country or 
any country. But we want to fight fascism under a 
leadership we can trust. 

("Military Policy of the Proletariat") 


Cannon strongly emphasized that capitalism has plunged the 
world into an epoch of universal militarism, and that from now on, 
"great questions can be decided only by military means." For 
Cannon, "antimilitarism was all right when we were fighting against 
war in times of peace. But here you have a new situation of univer- 
sal militarism." 

Trotsky and the SWP were attempting to take advantage of the 
intersection of the "universal militarism" of the bourgeois states' 
preparation for imperialist war with the genuine anti-fascist senti- 
ment of the masses. Trotsky's writings of 1939-40 reveal an apoca- 
lyptic vision of the coming war which led him to see the need to 
develop some strategy to fairly immediately win over the army. 
Trotsky and the SWP vastly overestimated the extent to which the 
processes of the war itself would rip the facade off the (Anglo- 
American) bourgeoisie's ideology of "democracy" fighting "dictator- 
ship." Trotsky, in conversations with SWP leaders in Mexico in 
1940, said, "If the bourgeoisie could preserve democracy, good, but 
within a year they will impose a dictatorship. .. .Naturally in prin- 
ciple we would overthrow so-called bourgeois democracy given the 
opportunity, but the bourgeoisie won't give us time" ("Discuss." 1 ' 
with Trotsky," 12 June 1940). 



As part of his projection, Trotsky also believed that reformism 
had exhausted all its possibilities: "At one time America was rich 
in reformist tendencies, but the New Deal was the last flareup. 
Now with the war it is clear that the New Deal exhausted all the 
reformist and democratic possibilities and created incomparably 
more favorable possibilities for revolution." The SWP developed 
the viewpoint that as a result of the crises resulting from the 
war, reformism could not survive. A section of the SWP Resolution 
titled "Reformism Cannot Live Today" stated, "In the first place 
the victories of the fascist war machine of Hitler have destroyed 
every plausible basis for the illusion that a serious struggle 
against fascism can be conducted under the leadership of a bourgeois 
democratic regime." But following World War II, because of the 
hatred of the working class for fascism and the broad strike wave, 
the bourgeoisie was forced to reinstate liberal reformist ideology 
and parliamentary politics, in an effort to mollify the workers. 

The Trotskyists took as the basis and starting point of their 
new policy, the deeply popular working-class sentiment against 
fascism. The working class was being conscripted, and part of 
their acceptance of this conscription was based on their desire to 
fight fascism, the SWP reasoned, so therefore their acceptance of 
conscription has a "progressive" character. The P.M. P. was based on 
the belief that the bourgeoisie would be forced to institute mili- 
tary dictatorships and thus would be forced to expose its reaction- 
ary character in the midst of war, in- a situation when the working 
class was armed (by the state itself) and motivated by deeply anti- 
dictatorship and anti-fascist feelings. This would lead inevitably 


to a revolutionary situation, and very quickly at that. These were 
the primary assumptions of Trotsky and the SWP . They do not serve 
to justify the adoption of the P.M. P., however, but rather only 
illuminate the background against which it was developed. 

The slogan "For trade-union control of military training," 
implies trade-union control of the bourgeois army. The P.M. P. slid 
over the particular nature and role of the imperialist army as the 
bulwark of capitalism. Shachtman caught the core of the P.M.P.'s 
reformist thrust and this sliding over when he wrote: 

...I characterized his [Cannon's] formula as essentially 
social-patriotic. .. .Cannon used to say: We will be defen- 
sists when we have a country to defend, that is, when the 
workers have taken power in the land, for then it will 
not be an imperialist war we are waging but rather a 
revolutionary war against imperialist assailants. .. .Now 
he says something different, because the revolution did 
not come in time. Now the two tasks--the task of bringing 
about the socialist revolution and defending the father- 
land--"must be telescoped and carried out simultaneously." 

("Working-Class Policy in War and Peace") 

In 1941 Shachtman had not yet been a year on his uneven 
eighteen-year-long centrist course from revolutionary Marxism to 
social democracy. In the first years Shachtman 's Workers Party 
claimed to be a section of the Fourth International and argued for 
the "conditional defense" of the Soviet Union whose "bureaucratic 
collectivism"--as he designated the degenerated workers state--was 
still progressive relative to capitalism. And as late as 1 947 the 
issue of unification between the SWP and the Workers Party was 
sharply posed. His revisionist break with Marxism was nonetheless 
profound from the outset: a complete repudiation of its philosophic 
methodology coupled with the concrete betrayal of the Soviet Union 
in the real wars that took place, first with Finland in 1939 and 
then the German invasion in 1941. Thus the SWP's departure from 
the clear principled thrust of Leninism in advancing the ambiguous 
P.M. P. was for the early revisionist Shachtman a gift which he was 
able to exploit because it did not center on his own areas of deci- 
sive departure from Marxism. 

Ten years later, however, under the pressures of the Korean 
War, Shachtman 1 s revisionism had become all-encompassing and he 
advanced a grotesquely reactionary version of the P.M. P. of his 
own. Writing of the anticipated Third World War he asserted that 
"the only greater disaster than the war itself. . .would be the vic- 
tory of Stalinism as the outcome of the war." From this he con- 
cluded that "socialist policy must be based upon the idea of trans- 
forming the imperialist war into a democratic war [against Stalin- 
ism]." And to achieve this transformation he looked to "a workers' 
government, no matter how modest its aims would be at the beginning, 
no matter how far removed from a consistently socialist objective" 
("Socialist Policy in the War," New International , 1951). Shacht- 
man' s "workers' government" is clearly no dictatorship of the 


proletariat—without socialist aims! --but rather the blood relative 
of Major Attlee's British Labour government, fantasized into an 
American labor government headed by Walter Reuther. Here the class 
character of the state has been disappeared with a vengeance. 
(Shachtman's group, by 1949 the Independent Socialist League, 
entered the Socialist Party-Social Democratic Federation in 1958. 
In the early 1960s nostalgic ISL types, most notably Hal Draper, 
gradually separated from the SP--especially after Shachtman himself 
defended the Cuban Bay of Pigs invasion. Draper et a_l. went on to 
found what has now become the present-day International Socialists.) 


The fragmentary material that Trotsky wrote on the subject in 
his last few months makes it clear that he bears responsibility for 
initiating the P.M. P.; however, he was murdered prior to its full- 
blown public inauguration and development by the SWP. Trotsky's 
prediction that the bourgeoisie would not give the workers time to 
overthrow the bourgeois state before they had to fight against 
fascism feeds directly into Cannon's ambiguity over revolutionary 
defeatism and the "telescoping" process of combining national de- 
fense with the workers' fight against fascism. 

Trotsky writes in "American Problems": "The American workers do 
not want to be conquered by Hitler, and to those who say, 'Let us 
have a peace program '... .we say: We will defend the United States 
with a workers' army, with workers' officers, with a workers' 
government, etc. If we are not pacifists, who wait for a better 
future, and if we are active revolutionists, our job is to penetrate 
into the whole military machine." What is left out of this 
agitational approach is significant. Marxists do not defend the 
U.S.! At least not until the U.S. is a socialist U.S., only after 
the bourgeoisie and all its institutions, including the army, have 
been crushed. Marxists must oppose imperialist war; World War II 
was being fought not for "democracy" against "fascism" but purely 
for redivision of the world for imperialist ends. The workers army 
Trotsky writes of cannot develop organically out of the bourgeois 
army, but must be built up under conditions of class tension and 
revolutionary crisis through independent workers militias and by 
polarization of the bourgeois armed forces--that is, as the counter- 
posed military arm of the working class organizing itself as the 
state power dual to the capitalists' government. 

The P.M.P.'s thrust was that of supporting a war against fas- 
cism without making clear whose class state was waging the war. 
Because of the popularity of a "democratic war against fascism," 
the actual effect of the P.M. P. would have been merely to make the 
bourgeois state's war more efficient and more democratically 



The logic of the P.M. P. impelled the SWP to see the bourgeois 
army as only one more arena of working-class struggle, like a 
factory, rather than as the main coercive force of the bourgeois 
state. If Marxists can favor trade-union control of industry, why 
not trade-union control of military training? We agree that Marx- 
ists seek to fight oppression wherever it arises, including fighting 
for soldiers' rights--but from this it does not follow that we 
should call for "workers control of the army" as a parallel slogan 
to "workers control of the factories." There will always be a need 
for development of the forces of production; the proletarian revolu- 
tion does not need to smash them for its own purposes. The army's 
sole function is to maintain the dominant class in power through 
coercion and repression; during the period of the dictatorship of 
the proletariat, the revolutionary state will have its own army, 
organized to serve its own class purposes; a developed socialist 
society will have no need for this special repressive apparatus, 
which will gradually dissolve into the whole self-armed population, 
and then, like the state, it too will wither away. The army is not 
a class-neutral institution. As part of the "special bodies of 
armed men" which constitute the basis of the state, it cannot be a 
workers army unless it is the army of a workers state. 

Similarly we do not delude the workers with slogans of "workers 
control" of the police or of the prisons either, since both are at 
the essence of the bourgeois state. If we called for "workers 
control of the prisons," the blood of Attica would be on our hands 
as well as Rockefeller's. The storming of the Bastille represents 
the only possible form of "workers control" of the repressive appa- 
ratus of the state--i.e., smashing it utterly. 

The P.M. P. was a proposal for the unions to make the bourgeois 
army more democratic and efficient to prosecute the war "against 
fascism." But the bourgeoisie cannot fight fascism! The U.S. 
bourgeoisie wanted to fight the Germans and Japanese to further its 
own imperialist goals, not to "fight fascism." 

The P.M. P. error can be most clearly seen in the case of an 
unpopular war: should we demand trade-union control of military 
training in order to better fight in Vietnam? Obviously not. But 
the point is the same. Only those social-chauvinists who support 
"their" government's war aims can reasonably raise the P.M. P. 

As an SWP programmatic demand, the P.M. P. never took life and 
shortly was shelved, because the SWP did oppose the second imperial- 
ist war and therefore the autonomous social-patriotic implications 
of the P.M. P. did not take hold. But neither was the error cor- 
rected in those years, and it has been a source of disorientation 
ever since for those young militants who seek to counterpose en 
bloc the revolutionary SWP of the 1940s to the wretched reformist 
vehicle which today still bears the initials SWP. 


The whole authority of the state is based ultimately on its 
ability to successfully employ its coercive power, which rests on 
its standing army, police and prisons; the coercive power of the 
state is the very essence of its structure. This development of 
state power is linked directly to the development of class antag- 
onisms, so that while the state appears to stand above and outside 
of class conflict, as a "neutral" third force, in reality it is 
nothing more than an agent of the dominant, more powerful class in 
society. These considerations give rise to two major premises of 
revolutionary strategy: (1) that the existing bourgeois state 
machinery, including its army, must be crushed, and (2) in order to 
successfully accomplish this, the bourgeois state must be unable to 
rely upon its own coercive power; it must be unable to use it suc- 
cessfully against the revolutionary forces who seek to fundamentally 
change the class structure upon which the state rests. It is impos- 
sible to use the bourgeois army for proletarian ends; it must be 
smashed. The destabilizing of the bourgeois army, turning a section 
of it to the side of the proletariat, is inseparably linked with, 
but not the same as , the process of arming the proletariat. 


The SWP was trying to use the bourgeoisie's militarism for its 
own ends, and so it dropped entirely any fight against bourgeois 
militarism and patriotism as the main danger to the working class, 
and instead of exposing the nature of the imperialist armies, con- 
centrated on attacking pacifism. Had the working class had such 
pacifist illusions of peaceful resistance to war, one could find 
more justification for this emphasis--however , as Trotsky recog- 
nized, the workers were "95 to 98 percent patriotic" in 1940, and 
thus accepted conscription into the army, because they were willing 
to fight fascism. Since the workers were for conscription, the 
pressure on the SWP to blunt a defeatist policy was strong. The 
SWP should have counterposed at every step the independent arming 
of the proletariat; but instead it undercut opposition to bourgeois 
conscription. Cannon attacks the fight of the social-pacifists 
against conscription because it "overlooked realities and sowed 
illusions. The workers were for conscription. .. .A certain amount of 
compulsion has always been invoked by the labor movement against 
the backward, the slackers. .. .Compulsion in the class war is a class 
necessity" (Cannon's speech at 1940 SWP Conference). Yes, of course 
compulsion is a class necessity--but conscription into the bourgeois 
army is a class necessity for the bourgeois class . The fact that 
the workers may have supported it does not alter the class nature 
of the coercion being applied. It is not the job of the proletarian 
vanguard to help the bourgeoisie wage its imperialist wars, to 
provide it with cannon fodder. Communists must call for revolu- 
tionary defeatism and the overthrow of the bourgeoisie in wars 
between imperialist powers--not for the working class in each coun- 
try to "control" the fighting arm of its "own" bourgeoisie. The 
call must be to "turn the guns the other way," not to control the 
military apparatus. 


As Trotsky wrote in 1934 in his comprehensive systematization 
of the revolutionary Marxist experience in World War I in applica- 
tion to the approaching Second World War, "War and the Fourth 
International" : 

79. If the proletariat should find it beyond its 
power to prevent war by means of revolution—and this is 
the only means of preventing war--the workers, together 
with the whole people, will be forced to participate in 
the army and in war. Individualistic and anarchistic 
slogans of refusal to undergo military service, passive 
resistance, desertion, sabotage are in basic contradiction 
to the methods of the proletarian revolution. But just 
as in the factory the advanced worker feels himself a 
slave of capital, preparing for his liberation, so in the 
capitalist army too he feels himself a slave of imperial- 
ism. Compelled today to give his muscles and even his 
life, he does not surrender his revolutionary conscious- 
ness. He remains a fighter, learns how to use arms, 
explains even in the trenches the class meaning of war, 
groups around himself the discontented, connects them 
into cells, transmits the ideas and slogans of the party, 
watches closely the changes in the mood of the masses, 
the subsiding of the patriotic wave, the growth of 
indignation, and summons the soldiers to the aid of the 
workers at the critical moment. 

The bourgeois state will only arm the workers for its own 
purposes—while this contradiction can and must be exploited by 
Marxists, it is Utopian to expect that the trade unions could be 
able to use the bourgeois army for their own purposes. The modern 
imperialist armies created by the state have a largely working- 
class composition , but their function is directly counterposed to 
the interests of the world proletariat. The crucial task of Marx- 
ists is to always and everywhere smash bourgeois ideology in the 
ranks of the working class, to call for the independent arming and 
struggle of the organizations of the working class. 


Appendix to Introduction 

SPARTACIST (English Edition) No. 38-39, Summer 1986 

Trotskyists in 
World War Two 

Tins article was prepared for publication from remarks 
made at the meeting of the International Executive Com- 
mittee of the iSt, held in Paris 30 November- 1 December 
1985. See meeting proceedings on page 41. 

By Pierre Vert 

An extremely rich, though somber, discussion on the 
activity of the international Trotskyist movement during 
World War II was provoked by an article by Pierre Broue, 
"Trotsky et les trotskystes face a la deuxieme guerre 
mondiale" ("Trotsky and the Trotskyists Confront World 
War II") in issue No. 23 (September 1985) of Cahiers Leon 
Trotsky. Comrades noted that this review, published by 
intellectuals associated with Pierre Lambert's deeply 
reformist PCI (Parti Communiste Intcrnationalistc, 
formerly Organisation Communiste Intcrnationalistc 
[OCI]), is probably the most provocative publication in the 
world today for archival and historical research on the 
Trotskyist movement. 

Broue presents a critical analysis of the Proletarian 
Military Policy, advocated by Trotsky just before he was 
murdered, along with a discussion of the national question 
in the occupied countries and of the participation of 
Trotskyists in the Stalinist-dominated Resistance. Broue 
argues against the view that Trotsky was sliding toward 
social defensism of the "allies" against the hideous 
barbarism of the Nazis. Rather, his argument implies that 
Trotsky was the first Pabloite. To Broue, Trotsky's 1940 




•-. -y^^tj^vSCs- 

;n. rsj 

Heroic Brest Trotskyists built cell in German army, 
distributed Arbeiter und Soldat . Gestapo arrested cell 
members October 1 943; German members were shot, 
others also killed or sent to concentration camps. 

call for "militarization" of the anti-fascist, proletarian 
masses amounts to the liquidation of the revolutionary 
vanguard party into the "mass movement," a policy 
actually developed and carried out by Michel Pablo. 
Moreover, Broue complains that the Fourth International 
did not take to heart Trotsky's "militarization" policy. 
Broue summarizes: 

"The question that we wanted to raise here is not an 
academic question. During World War Two, were the 
Trotskyist organizations, members as well as leaders, 
victims of an objective situation, which in any case was 
beyond them, and could they have done no better than 
they did, that is: to survive, round out the human material 
they had already recruited and save their honor as 
internationalists by maintaining through thick and thin 
the political work of 'fraternizing' with German workers in 
uniform? If that is so, it would then be well to admit that 
with his 1940 analysis of the necessity for militarization 
and his perspective for building the revolutionary party in 
the short term and beginning' the struggle for power, 
Trotsky was totally cut off, not only from world political 
reality, but from the reality of his own organization. In 
that case, Trotsky was deluding himself about the 
possibility of a breakthrough when the Fourth Interna- 
tional was in fact doomed to a long period of impotently 
'swimming against the stream,' in the face of the 'Stalinist 
hold on the masses.' But one could assume the opposite: 
that the Trotskyist organizations, both the ranks and the 
leadership, were part and parcel of this and were at least 
partly responsible for their own failures. In this case one 
might think, reasoning from the premises of Trotsky's 
I940 analysis, that World War Two developed a mass 
movement based on national and social resistance which 
the Stalinists took pains to derail and caused to be crushed, 
as in the Greek example — and that the Trotskyists, having 
proved incapable of integrating themselves, were unable to 
either aid or to exploit it, and even perhaps to simply 
understand the concrete nature of the period they were 
living through." 

Broue, while addressing very real questions, is none- 
theless mainly waginga veiled polemic against what hecalls 
party-building by "incantation" — a retrospective justifica- 
tion of the Lambert group's recent dissolution into the 
"Mouvement pour un parti des travailleurs" ("Movement 
for a Workers Party"), which explicitly harks back to the 
pre-Leninist conceptions of the "party of the whole class" 
of the Second International. The MPPT is a collection of 
anti-communist social democrats backed by sectors of the 
Force Ouvrierc trade-union federation, a union created 
with CIA funds in 1947 and still on Reagan's payroll. 

Trotsky on Militarization 

In the U.S., the Proletarian Military Policy (PMP) wasa 
misdirected attempt to turn the appetite of the American 
working class to fight fascism into a revolutionary 
perspective of overthrowing its "own" imperialist state. 
The central proposition of the PMP was a call for trade- 



union control of the compulsory military training being 
instituted by the state. But "workers control of the 
bourgeois state," if other than a routine social-democratic 
government, has only been an episode in an immediately 
revolutionary, dual power struggle. The workers army 
Trotsky wrote of must be forged under conditions of class 
battles and revolutionary crisis — dual power — through 
independent workers militias and the splitting of the 
bourgeois armed forces. 

The call for the PMP was in fact soon shelved, but not 
until after Max Shachtman subjected it to a devastating 
polemic, "Working-Class Policy in War and Peace," in the 
January 1941 issue of New International. On this point the 
left-centrist Shachtman, at the beginning of his 18-year 
slide toward State Department socialism, was correct 
against the SWP. 

But if Trotsky's 1939-40 writings do reveal an apocalyp- 
tic vision of the war which led him to see the need to 
develop some strategy to fairly immediately win over the 
army, it is necessary to emphasize that the PMP was 
nonetheless directed toward the mass organizations of the 
U.S. working class. 

For Broue, "proletarian mobilization" quickly becomes 
"militarization" pure and simple. For example, he lauds the 
decision of Ch'en Tu-hsiu, the historic leader of Chinese 
Trotskyism, to become the political adviser of a division of 
the bourgeois nationalist Kuomintang's army. It's not an 
accident that after this adventure in 1937, Ch'en Tu-hsiu 
advocated the building of a "Third Force" between the CP 
and the Kuomintang on a purely bourgeois-democratic 
program, turned to defensism on the Allied side in the war 
and abandoned defense of the USSR, which he no longer 
considered a workers state. Before his death in 1942 Ch'en 
Tu-hsiu broke all ties with the Fourth International. 

Broue never once distinguishes between workers 
militias, petty-bourgeois guerrilla formations (such as that 
of Tito whose seizure of power created a deformed workers 
state) and guerrilla formations under the discipline of a 
bourgeois general staff, as in the case of the French 
Resistance. This permits him to generalize from the Greek 
example, which followed a completely different trajectory 
from that of France or Italy. Despite popular-frontist 
capitulation, the Stalinist-controlled guerrilla army was 


Greek resistance fighters in Athens' seaport Piraeus 
after they were attacked by British troops, December 
1944. Greek Trotskyists warned of imperialist British 
aims; for this hundreds were murdered by Stalinists. 

headed toward an inevitable confrontation with the 
British-backed monarchy after the withdrawal of the Nazi 
occupation forces. This would have posed, as in Yugosla- 
via, the possibility of a deformed workers state if the 
Stalinists had won. Of course, Broue is not interested in this 
aspect of the question (the Lambertist tendency, to which 
he belongs, took 20 years to discover that Cuba was, in fact, 
not capitalist). 

Broue cites a 1943 document from the fragmented 
Greek Trotskyist movement which warns, "The Anglo- 
Americans will come to hand state power back to the 
bourgeoisie. The exploited will only have traded one yoke 
for another." Hundreds of Greek Trotskyists were 
murdered by the Stalinists for telling the truth about the 
designs of the imperialist Allies. Yet for Broue: 

"If this was indeed as it was, it is clear that the Greek 
Trotskyists, by contenting themselves with negative 
prophecies and not enrolling in the mass movement, would 
have condemned themselves to death." 

This shows clearly enough where Broue wants to go, which 
is not at all where Trotsky, whatever the faults of his 
PMP, wanted to go. 

Consideration of these questions among the comrades of 


At least seven SWP merchant seamen were killed during WWII, some on the Murmansk run. Freighter hit by 
German torpedo near Murmansk (above). High casualty rates led SWP Political Committee to stop party 
members from participating In Murmansk convoys, late 1942. 


the IEC provoked a discussion of the national question and 
in what sense it was posed in fully formed, bourgeois 
industrial nations overrun by a particularly savage 
imperialist conqueror like the Nazis. The question that 
interested our cadres very specifically was "what is to be 
done" by a Marxist propaganda group, an organic part of 
the proletariat, in the face of cataclysms like WWII when, 
at least initially, the winds of chauvinism blow strongly 
against us. As one comrade noted: 

"There's a very big difference between being a propaganda 
group and a mass party. Very big indeed. If you area mass 
party you not only must fight but you can fight and you 
can win. In major agitational struggles. If you're a few 
dozen or a few hundred people, you'd better hold your 


"The Bolsheviks were not, after 1905, a little propaganda 
group. They were a contending party for power. And 
because you can read their manifestos it does not make you 
the equal of them. They had the bulk of the industrial 
proletariat of their country." 

The sobriety of the discussion derived from the fact that 
the tactics and strategy being debated were factors of life 
and death to our comrades 45 years ago. A French comrade 

"The party was destroyed. There were a few people who 
remained during that long period — because it was very 
long, you know, five years in those kinds of circumstances 
is very long. A lot of people were killed, destroyed. A lot of 
people were not prepared at all for these kinds of issues. A 
lot of people wavered." 

Trotskyist Heritage 

It is very difficult to draw a balance sheet, but some acts 
we embrace as part of our heritage. One of the most well- 
known and heroic attempts at revolutionary defeatist 
fraternization was the distribution by a French Trotskyist 
cell in Brest of the paper Arbeiter und Soldat. This 
operation was aimed at German naval personnel, the 
children of communist and socialist workers. The Ameri- 
can SWP lost merchant marine comrades who had been 
on the dangerous supply run to Murmansk. And on the 
West Coast of the United States, American dockers and 
seamen tossed cigarette packs containing Trotsky's "Letter 
to Russian Workers" in Russian onto Soviet freighters that 
came in from Vladivostok. Before Togliatti retook control 
of the Italian CP in 1943, American Trotskyist seamen 
were acclaimed by CP crowds in Naples, then in the throes 

Vietnamese independ- 
ence fighters jailed and 
executed 6y French 
colonial troops in late 1945 
after Trotskyists led Saigon 
Insurrection. Inset: 
Vietnamese Trotskyist 
martyr Ta Thu Thau. 

of a mass uprising against the Nazis. At the IEC meeting, a 
comrade from Italy explained: 

"So you have this completely paradoxical situation where 
the most important resistance group in the left in the city of 

Rome was a semi-Trotskyist grouping Mussolini had 

come too early [for the CP base to have been thoroughly 
Stalinized] — in Rome you would have CP members going 
around and writing on the walls "Long Live Lenin! Long 
Live Trotsky! Long Live Stalin!" There was no sense that 

there had been a split [The group] Red Flag had the 

majority of the working-class elements in the resistance 
and they were an eclectic group, but they didn't have cadre, 
they didn't have a clear program, so that could be taken 
over by the CP at one point." 

And we stand on the work of the Vietnamese Trotskyists. 

As one comrade put it: 

"They [the Vietnamese Trotskyists] knew what to do. They 
waited until 1945 in Saigon and Hanoi. That was the time 
to move . . . when the British and then later also the French 
army came in. And we were killed for that. But not to be 
killed stupidly by Stalinist assassins in Greece [I943-1944] 
and in Spain ;n I937 and '38. And I think that Trotsky 
became overwhelmed by the horrors of Nazi totalitarian- 
ism and, without a qualitative capitulation to victory or 
defense between the interimperialist powers, he wanted an 
overly forward policy which would have and in fact did 
destroy our cadres in the hands of Michel Pablo." 

The IEC meeting voted to re-endorse the 1934 document 
"War and the Fourth International." 

We are a tendency which is very much preoccupied by 
the question of continuity with our revolutionary fore- 
bears. And we do understand that if the successive 
American sections — Cannon's revolutionary SWP and 
now the Spartacist League/U.S. — have had to make an 
enormous contribution to the reconstruction of the 
continuity of the international communist movement, one 
of the reasons is that more than a hundred senior European 
and Asian cadres were killed in the period from 1937-1946 
at the hands of the fascists and the Stalinists. ■ 


This text is taken from Proletarian Military Policy of the Socialist 
Workers Party , an undated bulletin issued by the National Education 
Department of the Socialist Workers Party. The resolution was adopted 
at a Plenum-Conference held in Chicago 27-29 September 1940. The res- 
olution was also published in the Socialist Appeal of 5 October 1940. 

1 . Capitalism has plunged the world into a horrible vortex of 
war and militarism. This testifies not to the vitality of capital- 
ism but to its fatal weakness, its incapacity to regain stability. 
The epoch of the death agony of capitalism and the beginning of 
social transformation is an epoch of universal militarism. It can 
be brought to an end only by the definitive victory of the proletar- 
iat. This is the essential feature of the present world situation. 

2. The intervention of the United States in the present war, 
or its clash with a victorious Germany or Japan at a later date, is 
predetermined by all the circumstances. All the realistic leaders 
of American capitalism clearly understand this. Only a few pacifist 
fools have the slightest doubt about it. The two main groups in the 
camp of U.S. imperialism--interventionist and so-called isolation- 
ists—differ only in regard to military strategy. Both are agreed 
on the policy of preparing to fight and grab. The stupendous arms 
program adopted by Congress has and can have only one meaning: mili- 
tary aggression in the near future on a world scale. 

The question whether German imperialism, having conquered 
Europe, can or cannot "attack" the United States has nothing to do 
with the real issue. The very existence of one aggressive and 
expanding imperialist power in the modern world is an "attack" on 
the others. The United States, as an imperialist power having its 
foundations throughout the world, is "attacked" anywhere a rival 
power attempts to seize a market, a piece of territory or a sphere 
of influence. 

Whether the United States directly intervenes in the present 
European war, or defers open military action for another point of 
attack is only a secondary consideration in evaluating the perspec- 
tive. The real course is clear: U.S. imperialism is preparing with 
all possible speed to put its strength and its weakness to the test 
of war on a colossal scale. 


3. In the epoch of militarism great questions can be decided 
only by military means--this is the fundamental lesson of the devel- 
opments of the present war. 



The agents and apologists of democratic imperialism--the social 
democrats, the centrists, the trade-union reformists and the paci- 
fists—fill the air with lamentations over the smashing military 
victories of Hitler and spread the sentiments of pessimism and 

We Fourth Internationalists thrust aside these traitors and 
panic mongers with hatred and contempt. Our task is to ascertain 
what has been destroyed and what has been proved by the momentous 
events in Europe and to draw the necessary conclusions for the 
future struggle. 


In the first place the victories of the fascist war machine of 
Hitler have destroyed every plausible basis for the illusion that a 
serious struggle against fascism can be conducted under the leader- 
ship of a bourgeois democratic regime. The war in Europe, as previ- 
ously in the Spanish rehearsal, has shown up the hollowness, the 
rottenness and the contemptible cowardice and greed of the whole 
ruling stratum of the bourgeois democrats. They are unwilling to 
sacrifice anything but the lives of the duped masses. To save 
their personal lives and their property they were ready in one 
country after another to capitulate to fascism and seek its protec- 
tion against the wrath of their own people. 

No less complete and devastating has been the destruction of 
the traditional reformist labor movement. At best, this tradi- 
tional movement-- the parties and the trade unions--was pacifist in 
character. That is, it was designed for peace, not for war. Par- 
ties which confined themselves to protests against the horrors of 
war, and did not seriously conduct a struggle for power to end the 
system which causes war--such parties were completely helpless when 
submitted to the test of war. The same proved true of the outwardly 
imposing trade unions. All concepts of peaceful, gradual, reformist 
progress within the framework of capitalism, and all parties and 
organizations which represented these concepts in any degree, were 
smashed like a house of cards. 


The war in Europe has once again, and more categorically than 
ever, posed the fundamental alternative of the epoch of wars and 
revolutions: either the dictatorship of fascist capitalism, or the 
dictatorship of the proletariat. The attempt of the European work- 
ers under the influence of the reformist labor bureaucracies, to 
find in democratic capitalism a third alternative, led to catastro- 
phe. The third alternative has been destroyed in blood and fire. 
But the program of the workers 1 fight for power has not been 
destroyed. When the workers of Europe rise again--and rise they 
will--that program will be their banner. These are the fundamental 
lessons of the war. 


4. Bolshevism alone, which aims to direct the workers' move- 
ment to the seizure of political power by revolutionary means, 
stands up and gains strength under the test of the great new events. 
War and militarism, which crush all other organizations and 
discredit all other programs, only provide a new verification of 
the premises of Bolshevism. The military epoch has room only for 
parties which inspire the workers to scorn all half measures, to 
stop at nothing, and to carry their struggle through to the very 
end. These are parties of a new type having nothing in common with 
the reformist-pacifist parties of the traditional labor movement. 
Such a party is the Socialist Workers Party. Its program can be 
described in one phrase: dictatorship of the proletariat. 


5. The certainty that the United States also will be domi- 
nated by militarism confronts the party with the categoric necessity 
to purge itself of all remnants of liberal, petty-bourgeois pacifist 
tendencies and conceptions carried over from the past, in particular 
from the left social-democratic movement. Pacifism is a debilitat- 
ing poison in the workers' movement. Pacifism, in all its forms, is 
no more than a protest in time of peace against war; in the face of 
actual war it thrusts the workers like sheep, unarmed and defense- 
less and without a program, into the slaughter. In our epoch, 
which is completely dominated by militarism, negative protests 
against war are of no avail whatever. The proletariat requires a 
positive program which takes the facts of war and militarism, the 
characteristic features of decaying capitalism, as the starting 
point for practical actions. 

The first impact of the war in Europe revealed a petty- 
bourgeois centrist tendency in the Socialist Workers Party which 
took shape as a faction. Under the leadership of Burnham and 
Shachtman this minority faction waged a disruptive struggle in the 
party and attempted to overthrow the Marxist doctrines in favor of 
journalistic improvisations. The disruptive struggle of the 
Burnham-Shachtman faction culminated in their desertion of the 
party in a typical petty-bourgeois recoil against the discipline of 
the proletarian majority of the party. The open repudiation of 
socialism by Burnham within less than two months after he had 
deserted the party was only the logical sequel to the course he 
followed in the party struggle. Burnham' s betrayal of socialism 
confirmed to the hilt the party's characterization of this preten- 
tious mountebank and the petty-bourgeois faction he organized and 
maneuvered into a split. 

Since the party convention the seceding faction has evolved 
consistently in the direction of traditional left socialist anti- 
militarism which at bottom is only a form of pacifism. The resolute 
struggle of the party majority against the Burnham-Shachtman fac- 
tion, and its decisive victory in the struggle, were the necessary 
conditions for the survival of the party. An unrelenting antagonism 
to the deserters on every point is no less necessary. The party 


cannot have the slightest reason for conciliation on any point with 

the faction of deserters inspired by petty-bourgeois fright before 

the stern realities and complexities of the developing war. 


6. The imperialist war is not our war and the militarism of 
the capitalist state is not our militarism. We do not support the 
war and militarism of the imperialists any more than we support the 
capitalist exploitation of workers in the factories. We are against 
the war as a whole just as we are against the rule of the class 
which conducts it, and never under any circumstances vote to give 
them any confidence in their conduct of the war or preparation for 
it, not a man, not a cent, not a gun with our support. Our war is 
the war of the working class against the capitalist order. But 
only with the masses is it possible to conquer power and establish 
socialism; and in these times the masses in the military organiza- 
tions are destined to play the most decisive role of all. Conse- 
quently, it is impossible to affect the course of events by a policy 
of abstention. It is necessary to take capitalist militarism as an 
established reality which we are not yet strong enough to abolish, 
and adapt our practical tactics to it. Our task is to protect the 
class interests of the workers in the army no less than in the 
factory. That means to participate in the military machine for 
socialist ends. The proletarian revolutionists are obliged to take 
their place beside the workers in the military training camps and 
on the battlefields in the same way as in the factory. They stand 
side by side with the masses of worker-soldiers, advance at all 
times and under all circumstances the independent class point of 
view, and strive to win over the majority to the idea of transform- 
ing the war into a struggle for their socialist emancipation. 


Under conditions of mass militarization the revolutionary 
worker cannot evade military exploitation any more than he can evade 
exploitation in the factory. He does not seek a personal solution 
of the problem of war by evading military service. That is nothing 
but a desertion of class duty. The proletarian revolutionist goes 
with the masses. He becomes a soldier when they become soldiers, 
and goes to war when they go to war. The proletarian revolutionist 
strives to become the most skilled among the worker-soldiers, and 
demonstrates in action that he is most concerned for the general 
welfare and protection of his comrades. Only in this way, as in 
the factory, can the proletarian revolutionist gain the confidence 
of his comrades in arms and become an influential leader among them. 

The total wars waged by the modern imperialists, and likewise 
the preparations for such wars, require compulsory military training 
no less than the appropriation of enormous funds and the subordina- 
tion of industry to the manufacture of armaments. As long as the 
masses accept the war preparations, as is indubitably the case in 


the United States, mere negative agitation against the military- 
budget and conscription cannot, by itself, yield serious results. 
Moreover, after Congress had already appropriated billions for 
armaments and was certain to pass a conscription bill without seri- 
ous opposition, such negative agitation against conscription was 
somewhat belated and easily degenerated into mealy-mouthed pacifism. 
This proved to be the case with the organizations (Thomasite Social- 
ists, Lovestoneites, etc.) affiliated with the preposterous con- 
glomeration which calls itself the "Keep America Out of War 
Committee"--a vile and treacherous tool of the "democratic" imper- 
ialists. The hypocrisy of their pacifism is indicated by the fact 
that, simultaneously, they declare themselves in favor of the vic- 
tory of Britain. Equally treacherous is the purely pacifist agita- 
tion of the Stalinists, employed today on behalf of Stalin's foreign 
policy under the Hitler-Stalin pact; and certain to be abandoned 
tomorrow when Stalin so orders, if he finds it necessary to switch 
partners. The pacifism of Browder and the pacifism of Thomas stem 
from different roots but are identical in their betrayal of the 
interests of the working class. Under the rule of a modern imperi- 
alism which is already arming to the teeth, an abstract fight 
against militarism is at best Quixotic. 


The revolutionary strategy can only be to take this militarism 
as a reality and counterpose a class program of the proletariat to 
the program of the imperialists at every point. We fight against 
sending the worker-soldiers into battle without proper training and 
equipment. We oppose the military direction of worker-soldiers by 
bourgeois officers who have no regard for their treatment, their 
protection and their lives. We demand federal funds for the mili- 
tary training of workers and worker-officers under the control of 
the trade unions. Military appropriations? Yes--but only for the 
establishment and equipment of worker training camps! Compulsory 
military training of workers? Yes--but only under the control of 
the trade unions! 

Such are the necessary concrete slogans for the present stage 
of the preparation of U.S. imperialism for war in the near future. 
They constitute a military transitional program supplementing the 
general political transitional program of the party. 

7. U.S. imperialism prepares for war, materially and ideolog- 
ically, without waiting to decide in advance the date when actual 
hostilities shall begin or the precise point of attack. The 
workers' vanguard must likewise prepare for war without dependence 
on speculative answers to these secondary questions. The militari- 
zation of the country in preparation for war is taking place before 
our eyes. All our work and plans for the future must be based on 
this reality. 



The first stages of militarization and war present enormous 
difficulties to our party because we have to swim against the 
stream. The party will be tested in a preliminary way by its capac- 
ity to recognize these difficulties and hold firm when the struggle 
is hard and the progress slow. Only a party fortified by the great 
principles and world associations of the Fourth International will 
be able to do this. 

We are not a party like other parties. We alone are equipped 
with a scientific program of Marxism. We alone retain an unshakable 
confidence in the socialist future of humanity. We alone are ready 
to meet the universal militarism of decaying capitalism on its own 
terms and lead the proletarian struggle for power accordingly. 

The war in its course will utterly destroy all other workers' 
parties, all half-and-half movements. But it will only harden the 
bona fide party of the Fourth International and open the way for 
its growth and eventual victory. 

The future belongs to the party of the dictatorship of the 
proletariat, the party of the Fourth International. It needs only 
to be true to itself, hold firm, dig in and prepare the future. 


by Max Shachtman 

This is the second in a series of six articles under this title written 
by Max Shachtman from late 1940 to early 1941. It appeared in Labor 
Action , 4 November 1940. 

Fascism's rise to power in Germany, its consolidation, and 
above all the spectacular victories it has won in the war, have had 
a decisive influence in shaping the thoughts and actions of the 
working class. Especially in the democratic countries, the labor 
movement is increasingly aware of the peril to its existence repre- 
sented by Hitlerism, increasingly anxious to fight it to the death. 
The worker's hatred of fascism and all it stands for is sound to 
the core. 

Up to the present, however, the revolutionary vanguard elements 
have been unable to give this hatred a clear-cut class expression. 
Rather, it has been cunningly and effectively exploited by every 
capitalist demagogue, every professional "democrat" and every one 
of their retainers in the labor movement. It has been basely per- 
verted in the interests of a decadent social order, for the preser- 
vation of capitalist rule, for the promotion of the profits and 
privileges of one imperialist gang against another. The most 
detestable form of this exploitation of a progressive sentiment for 
reactionary purposes is the use made of it to lead proletarian 
cannon-fodder docilely into supporting the capitalist democracies 
in the present war. 

We didn't do so well against fascism in Germany when we had 
the chance in 1931 and 1932 and 1933--say the social-democrats-- 
but we're ready to make up for it now under the sacred leadership 
of Daladier or Churchill or Roosevelt. 

War is a terrible thing; it threatens the standards of living 
and even the existence of the working class--say the labor lieuten- 
ants of imperialism--but fascism, which we ourselves, cannot fight, 
is worse and so we must fight it under the banner of imperialism. 

We used to have some confidence in the working class and 
socialism--say the intellectuals who have completed their retreat to 
capitalism--but now everything, especially the class struggle and 
all idea of revolution, must be abandoned in the interests of the 
holy war against fascism. 

Our traditional principles and beliefs held in the past--they 
all say in one way or another--but they hold no longer because 
fascism makes it necessary for us to revise them or to drop them 



The tragic hordes of refugees fleeing before the mechanized 
armies of Hitler have as their no less tragic counterpart the flight 
from working-class principles of virtually everybody in and around 
the labor movement. Some are moving fast, and some faster, but 
almost all of them are in flight. 

It would be somewhat surprising if even the most revolutionary 
section of the working class were not affected in one degree or 
another by the atmosphere thus created. We know from the last 
world war that those revolutionists who were able to resist the 
impact of the powerful chauvinistic wave, not give a single inch to 
it, were exceedingly few in number and remained in total isolation 
for a long time. Others either plunged into the war current or 
drifted with it and landed far from the shores of the working class. 
In those days, the pretext for abandoning Marxism was the need of 
preserving labor from the horrors of Kaiserism or Czarism; today, 
it is the horrors of fascism. 


Among the recent examples of change of front is the unfolding 
of a new policy towards the war and militarism by the Socialist 
Workers Party (Cannon group). It is worthy of detailed examination 
precisely because it is calculated to appeal to those revolutionary 
workers who were educated in the spirit of Lenin's uncompromising 
ideas. Let us see just what it has and what it has not in common 
with these ideas. 

The policy, specifically described as a new one, has its origin 
in a point of view developed by Trotsky shortly before his assassi- 
nation. It is presented publicly, with characteristic amplifica- 
tions, one-legged analogies and other improvements, in two speeches 
delivered by Cannon at the last meeting of the S.W.P. National 
Committee in Chicago and a resolution adopted there, all of which 
appear in recent numbers of the Socialist Appeal . 

Our examination could not possibly dwell on all the ludicrous 
theoretical boners with which Cannon's contribution is studded and 
which have always been a source of polite merriment among his less 
awed colleagues. That would be too long a task for one or even two 
articles. Insofar as it is possible to crash through the common- 
places and pomposity that surround its central points, we shall 
deal only with those points. 

"These are new times," says Cannon. "The characteristic fea- 
ture of our epoch is unceasing war and universal militarism." So 
far--even if not very new--so good. And what new policy does the 
revolutionary Marxist movement need for these new times which it 
did not have yesterday? "The workers themselves must take charge 
of this fight against Hitler and anybody else who tries to invade 
their rights. That is the whole principle of the new policy that 
has been elaborated for us by comrade Trotsky. The great difference 
between this and the socialist military policy in the past is that 


it is an extension of the old policy, and adaptation of old princi- 
p les to new conditions . " (Emphasis in original.) 

Having read what the "whole principle of the new policy" is, 
we rub our eyes for the first time. "The workers themselves must 
take charge of this fight against Hitler and anybody else who tries 
to invade their rights." Just what is new in this policy, at least 
so far as the Marxist movement, or the modern Trotskyist movement, 
is concerned? Of which old policy is it an extension? Liberals, 
social-democrats and Stalinists in the past (and today) placed the 
fight against fascism in charge of the bourgeoisie. That is true. 
But not we. 

Especially since the rise of the Nazis in Germany in 1931, 
Trotsky above all taught the movement that "the workers themselves 
must take charge of this fight against Hitler" and Hitlerism, both 
on a national and an international scale, both in the case of civil 
war in one country and in the case of imperialist war between 
bourgeois-democratic and fascist nations. That thought runs through 
every document of the Fourth International, every document of 
Trotsky, from 1931 down to the thesis on "The War and the Fourth 
International" and "the Transitional Program of the Fourth Inter- 
national." If that is the "whole principle of the new policy," 
what was the principle of the "old" policy? 


We have learned, in politics, that the attempt to present an 
old policy as a new one, or a new policy as merely an old one, 
usually conceals something quite different. But before we look to 
see if that is so in this case, let us inquire into the reasons, 
the premises, for a new policy. 

We must rid ourselves, says Cannon, of a hangover from the 
past of our own movement. "We said and those before us said that 
capitalism had outlived its usefulness. World economy is ready for 
socialism. But when the World War started in 1914 none of the 
parties had the idea that on the agenda stood the struggle for 
power. The stand of the best of them was essentially a protest 
against the war. It did not occur even to the best Marxists that 
the time had come when the power must be seized by the workers in 
order to save civilization from degeneration . Even Lenin did not 
visualize the victory of the proletarian revolution as the immediate 
outcome of the war." (Emphasis in original.) 

Now, having read what the premises for the "new" policy are, 
we rub our eyes for the second time. One would think that the need 
of imposing the new line on his party did not require such an insis- 
tent display of contempt for commonly-known facts. We restrict 
ourselves to the term "contempt" only because it is not quite 
clear to us whether it is falsification that is involved or merely 
ignorance . 


Not even "the best of them," not even "the best Marxists," and 
not even Lenin looked forward to the proletarian revolution in the 
last war? Let us see: 

In one of its very first manifestoes following the outbreak of 
the war, the Central Committee of the Bolshevik party declared in 
October, 1914: "The war has placed on the order of the day (in the 
advanced European countries. M.S.) the slogan of a socialist revo- 
lution." The resolution of the Bolshevik conference in Switzerland, 
March, 1915, declared: "Civil war to which revolutionary social- 
democracy calls at the present period is a struggle of the prole- 
tariat, with arms in hand, against the bourgeoisie for the purpose 
of expropriating the capitalist class in the advanced capitalist 
countries, for a democratic revolution in Russia (democratic repub- 
lic, eight-hour work-day, confiscation of landowners' lands), for a 
republic in the backward monarchist countries in general, etc.... A 
revolutionary crisis is approaching." 

Cannon now tells us that "the stand of the best of them was 
essentially a protest against the war." If the above perspective 
and program of the Bolsheviks ("the best of them") was only a pro- 
test against the war, what, if you please, would a program of revo- 
lution look like? 

Again, in his article of October 11, 1915, Lenin wrote, pre- 
cisely against those who did not have a revolutionary perspective: 
"...We are really and firmly convinced that the war is creating a 
revolutionary situation in Europe, that all the economic and socio- 
political circumstances of the imperialist epoch lead up to a revo- 
lution of the proletariat. ..( therefore) it is our bounden duty to 
explain to the masses the necessity of a revolution, to appeal for 
it, to create befitting organizations, to speak fearlessly and in 
the most concrete manner of the various methods of forceful struggle 
and of its ' technique '".. .And a year later, at the end of 1916, the 
same "not-even-Lenin" wrote in his criticism of the German Marxists: 
"In the years 1914 to 1916 the revolution stood on the order of the 
day." And above all, what in heaven's name was the meaning of 
Lenin's slogan, repeated a thousand times during the last war, 
"Turn the imperialist war into a civil war"? 


Now why is Cannon compelled to resort to so transparently 
false an argument to motivate the change in course? The answer is 
not hard to find. His problem is to reconcile the irreconcilable: 
adherence to the revolutionary anti-war tradition of Lenin and 
Bolshevism, with advocacy of a new and different policy towards the 
present war crisis that has little in common with that tradition. 
He resolves his problem very simply--by a complete misrepresentation 
of the views and tradition of the Bolsheviks in the last war. Once 
that is done, he is ready to proceed with his "new" policy. We 
have already seen that his first attempt to describe what is "new" 


in the policy adopted by the S.W.P., is simply a failure. Let us 
see how he fares with his other attempts. 

Pacifist opposition to war is futile or misleading or even 
reactionary . Good, and like most of the commonplaces of which Can- 
non is qualified master, true. Moreover, it is worthwhile repeating 
and explaining this truth over and over again. The working class, 
and revolutionists in particular, are not and cannot be opposed to 
war as such and therefore to all wars. We were for the war in 
Spain; we are for the war of a colonial people against an imperial- 
ist power (China vs. Japan); we are, above all, for the war of the 
workers against their oppressors. The professional pacifists are 
at best Utopians (disarmament, or abolition of war, under capital- 
ism!) and at worst, as a rule, they disarm the exploited in face of 
the enemies of the people. But Marxists have pointed this out for 
almost a hundred years. The whole modern revolutionary movement 
was brought up, especially by Lenin and Trotsky, in the last quarter 
of a century with a keen appreciation of these ideas. Repeat it 
today? Emphasize it more and more? Yes. But that is not new --at 
least not to the Marxists. 

Individual abstention from imperialist war is futile and reac- 
tionary . Good, and again, true. We are not "conscientious objec- 
tors." If the imperialist government, because of our weakness, 
compels us to enter the army, we enter. If it compels us to parti- 
cipate in its war, we participate. We do not claim "exemption" on 
grounds of conscientious objection. Such opposition to imperialist 
militarism and war is futile because it is based on individual 
action instead of action by the organized masses. And if the masses 
were conscious and strong enough to impose a demand for "exemption, 
they would be strong enough to take power and put an end forever 
both to militarism and war. Such opposition is reactionary, be- 
cause, if carried out by us, it would mean eliminating revolution- 
ists from the aggregate of the workers in uniform, thus leaving 
them prey to chauvinists and reactionaries. But these views are at 
least twenty-five years old in the Marxist movement. When Cannon 
says of us, the Workers Party, that "They were primarily concerned 
about the various ways of evading the draft," he merely adds another 
monstrous falsehood to the one he tells about Lenin in the last 
war, doubly monstrous because of the interest which "perspicacious" 
authorities would show in the lie... But be that as it may, wherein 
is what he says on this point new --that is, new to the Fourth Inter- 
national, for it is a new policy for the International that he is 

The interests of the workers - in - uniform must be defended . 
Good, and true, and an elementary duty of the revolutionary move- 
ment, of the working class as a whole, both inside and outside 
the army. We demand decent living standards for the soldiers. We 
demand full political, democratic rights for the soldiers. We 
demand an end to all arbitrariness and abuses by the officer caste. 
We demand the election of officers by the soldiers. We demand an 
end to the division between the barracks and the civilian popula- 
tion. All these and similar demands have been put forth in Labor 


Action . But we do not claim that they are "new." They represent 
the position of the modern revolutionary movement since the begin- 
ning of the last World War and, for that matter, for many years 
before it. 


But if these things, to which Cannon devotes slabs of lead in 
the Socialist Appeal , are not the "new policy" demanded by the "new 
times," what is it? We finally come to it in Cannon's summary 
speech, tucked away in a few modest little sentences. We will 
quote them so that the reader may have them right before him: 

Was our old line wrong? Does the resolution repre- 
sent a completely new departure and a reversal of the 
policy of the past? It is not quite correct to say that 
the old line was wrong. It was a program devised for the 
fight against war in time of peace. Our fight against 
war under conditions of peace was correct as far as it 
went. But it was not adequate. It must be extended. 
The old principles, which remain unchanged, must be 
applied concretely to the new conditions of permanent war 
and universal militarism. We didn't visualize, nobody 
visualized, a world situation in which whole countries 
would be conquered by fascist armies. The workers don't 
want to be conquered by foreign invaders, above all by 
fascists. They require a program of military struggle 
against foreign invaders which assures their class 
independence. That is the gist of the problem. 

Many times in the past we were put at a certain dis- 
advantage; the demagogy of the social democrats against 
us was effective to a certain extent. They said: "You 
have no answer to the question of how to fight against 
Hitler, how to prevent Hitler from conquering France, 
Belgium, etc. (Of course their program was very simple-- 
the suspension of the class struggle and complete sub- 
ordination of the workers to the bourgeoisie. We have 
seen the results of this treacherous policy.) Well, we 
answered in a general way, the workers will first over- 
throw the bourgeoisie at home and then they will take 
care of invaders. That was a good program , but the work- 
ers did not make the revolution in time. Now the two 
tasks must be telescoped and carried out simultaneously . 
( Socialist Appeal , No. 43. Our Emphasis.) 

There is the new policy of Cannon! There it is, along with 
the real reason for it. At the beginning we were told that the 
"new military policy" cannot be found in the records of the Marxists 
during the last war, because "not even Lenin" visualized a revolu- 
tion coming out of the war, whereas in the present war we do visu- 
alize it. The argument was spurious and Cannon implicitly acknowl- 
edges it in his summary. What is new is what Jay Lovestone and 
Sidney Hook say is new, what all the social-patriots say is new, 


namely, the dramatically speedy advance of the Hitlerite armies 
which "we didn't visualize, nobody visualized." 

"The workers don't want to be conquered by foreign invaders, 
above all by fascists." Quite true, and in that the workers are 
quite justified. But that was true also in the last world war. 
The German workers, with their socialist traditions and institu- 
tions, did not want to be conquered by the invading Cossack repre- 
sentatives of Czarist absolutism. The French workers, with their 
republican and revolutionary traditions, did not want to be con- 
quered by the invading Prussian Junkers and the Hohenzollern dynas- 
ty. And not only the workers in general, but we, the revolutionary 
Marxists, in particular, and that both in 1914 and in 1940. 

But what follows from that for Marxists? The policy of the 
social-patriots, of Scheidemann and Cachin and Henderson in 1914, 
Blum and Bevin and Oneal in 1940, the policy of supporting the 
imperialist war in the name of "defense of the fatherland" (or 
"defense of the working class and its institutions and rights") 
from the "invading aggressor"? 

Not for a minute! We have always replied, and we still do: 
This is a war between imperialist bandits for the re-division of 
the world and its spoils, and not at all a war between democracy 
and fascism, between defender and invader. The latter is a vicious 
imperialist lie, and if you believe it you are a dupe of the ruling 
class and its apologists. But you want to fight fascism? Yes, of 
course we do. However, there is but one road in that fight--all 
others lead to the triumph of fascism. That road is the overthrow 
of the imperialist ruling class, the establishment of workers' 
power, of the socialist nation, which will resist all counter- 
revolutionary aggressors and invaders with arms in hand. 

That has always been the position of the revolutionary Marx- 
ists. Cannon confirms it. What if we are attacked by a foreign 
power? he is asked. He says he used to answer: "The workers will 
firs t overthrow the bourgeoisie at home and then they will take care 
of invaders." That is, from the revolutionary standpoint, the 
right of national defense in war is conferred upon the working 
class only after it has taken power from the imperialist ruling 
class, and has a nation to defend. This , and nothing else , is what 
has always distinguished the revolutionary Marxists, the socialist- 
internationalist, from all varieties of social-patriots and social- 
chauvinists. The argument of the latter, from 1914 to 1940, has 
been, contrariwise, that the workers must defend "their" country 
from "invaders" whether or not they have yet succeeded in over- 
throwing the bourgeoisie. 

Now, however, Cannon calls for a different, a new answer to 
the demagogy of the social-democrats. "Now the two tasks must be 
telescoped and carried out simultaneously." What two tasks? Task 
One: "Overthrow the bourgeoisie at home" and Task Two: "Take care of 
the invaders," i.e., national defense. No amount of sophistry-- 
and we look forward to the usual quota--can wipe out this fact: 


Up to now, Cannon, together with all other partisans of Marx- 
ism, declared that national defense in an imperialist war was per- 
missible only after the overthrow of the bourgeoisie. Today, in 
virtue of the "new" policy, Cannon declares that national defense 
is permissible "simultaneously" with the struggle to overthrow the 
bourgeoisie. In other and simpler words, national defense in 
imperialist war is permissible while the bourgeoisie still rules! 

There is the "new" policy of the Cannonites and nothing else! 
And so far as the Fourth International and its precursors are con- 
cerned (we cannot speak for other groups in the labor movement!), 
it certainly is new! 


What about the slogan of "control of military training by the 
trade unions," which the Cannonites seem to present as the "new" 
element in their policy? Nonsense! That is not what is essentially 
new in the policy; it is only an offshoot of the "new" course. 
Military training of the workers and under workers 1 control? Of 
course! What else is our already pretty-well-established slogan of 
a people's army based on the trade unions? Yes, we were and remain 
for the arming of the workers, for a people's army based on the 
most authentic organs of the masses today, the trade unions. That' s 
the army we rely upon to fight our battles, to defend our interests 
against reaction at home and abroad. As a separate and class insti- 
tution of the workers, we want it to be completely independent 
today of the capitalist state machinery, of its military apparatus 
in particular. Tomorrow, if the people are ready for it, we want it 
to replace that apparatus. 

Of our slogan we can truthfully say: we are reviving (not re- 
vising!) Lenin's old "proletarian militia" slogan of the last war, 
"modernizing" it neither in principle nor tactically, but only agi- 
tationally , from the standpoint of the concrete situation in our 
day. Our slogan of a people's army based on the trade unions is 
the indispensable complement of the fight we carried against con- 
scription, that is, against the building and consolidation of impe- 
rialist militarism. (Parenthetically: Cannon knows this, of course; 
but that does not prevent him with characteristic disloyalty and 
malice from putting our fight against conscription into the same 
category with that of Norman Thomas and other pacifists!) 

Is this, however, what Cannon's slogan amounts to? It is 
sometimes hard to say--reading the Appeal - -because "military train- 
ing under trade-union control" is presented there with deliberate 
ambiguity . At times, it seems to call for the establishment of a 
separate armed force, brought together, armed, trained, directed 
and controlled by the class organizations of the workers, the trade 
unions, and not as a part of the imperialist army. Given that 
sense, the slogan is identical with our slogan of a "people's army" 
and is one hundred percent correct. 


Elsewhere in the Cannonite press, however, the slogan is inter- 
preted as a demand for trade-union "control" of the conscript imper- 
ialist army--which is something quite different! Thus--to take the 
most striking sample from the Appeal --the headlines in No. 39: 
"N.J. Survey Shows Workers Want Union Control of Military Training. 
Approve Enactment of Conscription, But Also Favor Union Control of 
It." The story that follows corresponds to the headlines. 

Why is this second interpretation different from the first? 
The first--a separate , independent , army of the workers, a "prole- 
tarian militia"--is a slogan of class struggle . It stands on the 
same social feet, so to speak, as a trade union itself. It may be 
and at the outset it would be, shaded by class-collaborationist 
officials, just as, for example, the pre-1933 independent social- 
democratic military organization in Germany, the Reichsbanner , or 
the Red Front-Fighters League of the Stalinists. Yet it remains, 
like the unions, a class organization of the proletariat, and it 
can always be "reformed" of its defects, i.e., transformed peace- 
fully into a revolutionary institution. The second--"trade-union 
control" of the conscript army--is a slogan of class collaboration , 
especially in view of the present trade-union leadership (for in 
this slogan, the reformist character of the officialdom i_s in- 
volved). This slogan stands on the same social feet as a call for 
"trade-union control" of the Roosevelt government. That is why 
revolutionary Marxists have never put it forward and do not put it 
forward today. The bourgeois army cannot be "reformed," transformed 
into an institution or instrument of the working class. The prole- 
tarian analysis of it, and attitude towards it, is the same as it 
is towards the bourgeois state , of which the armed forces are the 
principal physical constituent and characteristic. 

Cannon, with vulgar disregard for Marxian theory, compares the 
army with a factory, a political with an economic institution. His 
comparison is significant. The working class will take over the 
factories; it will not take over the imperialist army any more than 
it will take over the imperialist state. According to the "out- 
lived" Lenin and, before him, Marx and Engels, it will "shatter" 
the existing state apparatus and replace it with an entirely new 
and different machinery. Meanwhile , to be sure, revolutionists 
will no more "abstain" from participating in the armed forces of 
the bourgeoisie than they abstain from participating--allowing for 
obvious changes--in the parliament of the bourgeoisie. 

"Trade-union control of military training" in the present army 
is essentially class-collaborationist, finally, because the trade- 
union "controllers" would only be captives of imperialism, could 
only be the executors of the policy and purpose of the army, both 
of which are decided or determined by the imperialist bourgeoisie 
and its executive committee--the government, the President- 
Commander-in-Chief and his Staff. It is tragic to think that such 
ABC's have to be re-stated not in a polemic against social-democrats 
but in a polemic against a ... Bolshevik . 



In their anxiety to find a "practical" program, to adapt them- 
selves to the patriotic, anti-fascist moods of the workers (that 
is, to the anti-fascist moods which the bourgeoisie have subverted 
to the needs of bourgeois patriotism), the Cannonites have given an 
important finger to the devil of national defensism. It would be 
stupid to put them in the camp of the social-patriots, of course. 
But while they are not in flight from revolutionary internationalist 
principles, they are moving away from them. The "two tasks" which 
they want to carry out "simultaneously"--there is a treacherous 
trap they have set for themselves. That trap is all that is new in 
Cannon's "military policy of the proletariat." 

It is in light of this overwhelmingly important fact that the 
recent ether "peculiar" developments among the Cannonites must be 
judged. We list a few of the more significant ones made under- 
standable only by understanding the main point we have made: 

1 . Dropping the fight against conscription like a hot potato-- 
weeks before it became law. Worse: the sabotaging of that fight by 
repeating every week that it is useless, that conscription is 
"inevitable," that all its opponents are miserable, poisonous paci- 
fists. Worse yet: deliberately falsifying the facts to suit the 
"new" policy. For example: Before the "new" policy gained its full 
impetus, the Appeal recognized (No. 32) what everybody knew: "There 
is today a great wave of popular opposition to the conscription 
bill now being debated in Congress. . . millions of workers and farm- 
ers oppose conscription . " Two months later, the Appeal discovered 
(No. 41 ) that "it is a hopeful fact that the great mass of the 
workers who are required to do so will go to the registration places 
on Wednesday seriously and without whining or empty regrets. They 
go to the army as they go to the factory." And two weeks later, 
Cannon writes (No. 43) that " the workers were for conscription . " 
The type of lie is a bad symptom; the lie itself is a bad symptom. 

2. The unprecedentedly furious assault on "pacifism" by the 
Cannonites. The "pacifism" of the broad masses is healthy and 
sound--let the Cannonites shout all they please about this in their 
newly-acquired stage-sergeant's bluster! It has little, if any- 
thing, in common with the professional and "theoretical" pacifists, 
like the patriotism of the masses, their "pacifism" is progressive, 
at any rate, potentially progressive. It represents the justified 
suspicion that fills the people about the imperialist war-mongers 
and their wars. It represents their hatred and dread of the horrors 
of war which has become a permanent phenomenon of a rotten social 
order. It represents their yearning for peace, for security. It 

is often possible, necessary and right to make a bloc with pacifists 
against social-patriots, for example; never possible to make one 
the other way around! 

And Cannon? Not a word about all this. Instead, his Plenum 
resolution states curtly: "Pacifism is a debilitating poison in 
the workers' movement." That, and nothing more! Jim Oneal could 


scarcely improve upon the formulation. And oh! another discovery. 
Do you know what destroyed the European labor movement in the pres- 
ent war? According to Cannon, it was its pacifism! Yes, yes, 
black on white. We thus learn (high time!) that pacifism is the 
greatest danger to the working class and the labor movement. Ernest 
Bevin, Minister of Supplies in His Majesty's Imperial Government, 
is, you see, a pacifist, and not a social-patriot. 

3. But not a single word from the Cannonites about social- 
patriotism! Exaggeration? Polemical overstatement? No, that is 
literally the case. The Appeal has printed both of Cannon's 
speeches on "military policy" and his resolution. In. all three 
documents , there is not one single solitary word , not a syllable , 
which mentions social- patriotism . We repeat, not one! Blum and 
Company in France, and the European labor movement he represented, 
collapsed, you see, because of pacif ism--but not because of social- 
patriotism! Pacifism is a terrible poison ruining the American 
workers' movement, but social-patriotism is not even serious enough 
to be mentioned as a pimple. 

The present writer cannot be endorsed by the Socialist Appeal 
as candidate for Congress on the platform of the Workers Party 
because he represents a "petty-bourgeois pacifist sect"; the A.L.P. 
and Minnesota Farmer-Labor Party candidates are endorsed although 
the Appeal criticizes their "false, opportunist programs." How 
delicately put! Their "opportunist" but not their "social- 
patriotic" programs. Is all this mere accident, or is it a case of 
the old German proverb: In the house of the hanged, you don't talk 
of rope. . . . 

4. We used to speak of the "war program" and "war industries" 
and we still do. The imperialist patriots, deliberately, speak of 
the "defense program" and "defense industries." Deliberately-- 
because they must imbue the people with the lie that this is a 
"defensive" war. The Cannonites used to speak our language on this 
point. Here, too, we record a change, evidently in accordance with 
the "new times" and the "new policy." The front page "box" demand 
of the Appeal (No. 32) called for "Trade-Union Wages on All Defense 
Work!" Accident? The Election Platform of the Minnesota S.W.P. 
( Appeal No. 42) calls for "Trade-union hours and wages on all 
defense and public works programs ... .Take over without compensation 
the national defense industries...." In No. 34, we read that 
"Instead of allowing the [American] Legionnaires to monopolize the 
defense movement, every trade union ought to set about to form Union 
Defense Guards." It is nice to learn that the much-maligned Legion 
has been taking care of "our def ense"--even "monopolizing" it. 
Merely loose language? We hope so! 

5. The proposal, made in a letter from Goldman to Trotsky, 
that the S.W.P. drop the slogan of a "People's Referendum on War" 
(a proposal Trotsky rebuffed). Yet, why not? Drop the fight 
against conscription because it is "inevitable" then drop the fight 
against the war, for it is even "more inevitable"! Is it not rather 
"strange" that for the last month or more no attention or space has 


been devoted by the Appeal to criticizing or condemning the new 
steps Roosevelt takes every day to bring the country closer and 
closer to participation in the imperialist slaughter? Is it, per- 
haps, because, this being a "new epoch" of war and militarism, we no 
longer fight against war and militarism? The fact that Goldman 
could even make his proposal--surely not in his name alone--is of 
ominous significance. 


6. The startling contrast between the speed and wholehearted- 
ness with which Cannon accepted Trotsky's basic thesis (to say 
nothing of Cannon's contributions to it--historical, theoretical, 
tactical, analogical) and the curt, even violent opposition Cannon 
manifested towards Trotsky's other proposal, namely, to give criti- 
cal support in the elections to Browder and the rest of the Stalin- 
ist ticket? On the military policy, Cannon speaks of Trotsky with 
tenderness, praise, even veneration. On the election policy, Cannon 
uses the--for him--unprecedented language: "Trotsky .. .put forward a 
shocking proposal. .. .We took the position that such a drastic change 
in the middle of the election campaign would require too much expla- 
nation, and would encounter the danger of great misunderstanding 
and confusion which we would not be able to dissipate." Would it 
not be simpler to put the difference in Cannon's reaction to the 
two proposals in these terms: (a) to storm against "pacifism" and 
to shout for "compulsory military training under union control" may 
not meet with one hundred percent approval of our patriotic union 
officialdom, but at the same time they would scarcely regard it as 
terribly "subversive"; whereas (b) to call for critical support of 
the Stalinists in the unions, even though it is fully in line with 
the rest of the Cannonite position, both on the war question and 
the question of defense of the Soviet Union (Trotsky was quite 
consistent in his proposal), will not sound pleasant in the ears of 
those "progressive fakers" in the unions with whom Cannonites are 

At the time of the factional struggle in the S.W.P. which ended 
in the mass expulsions of the minority and the formation by us of 
the Workers Party, Cannon pretended that he wanted nothing more 
than unity, that the split would be injurious to the movement, and 
more of the same. In his speech, Cannon now admits his real feel- 
ings about the split: "It is a great advantage for us that we got 
rid of this petty-bourgeois opposition." When Cannon speaks of 
"us" he uses the word like an editorial writer. Therefore, in this 
case, he is telling the simple, sincere truth. His "new policy" on 
war and militarism, represents a real departure from the principles 
of revolutionary Marxism. It is hard to believe that it can go 
unchallenged in the S.W.P. , for there must be in it a group of 
thoughtful Marxists capable of speaking their convictions and ready 
to exercise this capacity. If Cannon is able to deal with them as 
he tried to deal with us he certainly will have a greater advantage 
in his party than he already has. 


A Monthly Organ of Revolutionary Marxism. 


JANUARY, 1941 


Working-Class Policy in War 
and Peace 

Once More on the New Policy Towards Militarism and 
War of the Socialist Workers Party. 

THE SECOND WORLD WAR is here, and it is only 
a matter of time before the United States is an open 
belligerent in words as well as in deeds. Of all the 
havoc caused by the war, none is so tragic as that produced 
in the working-class movement. Suppressed, atomized, cor- 
rupted, demoralized or misled, labor has missed its second 
great opportunity in the twentieth century to lift society 
out of the dreadful morass in which it is floundering and 
to reorganize it socialistically, on the foundations of order- 
liness, brotherhood, abundance, security and peace for the 

The weight of the old parties, the old leaderships, the 
old theories and programs, has again proved so heavy a 
burden on the working class as to prevent it from rising to 
its feet and acting as the revolutionary savior of society 
threatened by barbarism. The fate of mankind is being 
fought out on the battlefields of the Old World. The Amer- 
ican working class, still comparatively fresh and free, can 
play a decisive if not the decisive role in determining the 
outcome of the war in favor of world revolution and world 
socialism. But only on one condition, the all-importance of 
which is emphasized by labor's defeats in Europe: that it 
develops as speedily as possible a revolutionary Marxist 
party apable of leading the oppressed to victory. An in- 
dispensable prerequisite and concomitant of this task is the 
maximum of clarity and preciseness— hence, of effectiveness 
—of such a party's theory and program. Especially now, in 
the midst of war, ambiguity and carelessness in this domain 
can become crimes for which punishment will not be lack- 
ing. Errors and worse which had only white paper as their 
background in yesterday's peace times, have a far greater 
importance today with the flames of war as their background, 
and a still greater one tomorrow when the irresistible revo- 
lution rises to throw its light upon them. 

With these thoughts in mind, I began a few weeks ago 
to write a series of articles in Labor Action on proletarian 
policy towards war and fascism, the subjects uppermost in 
everyone's mind. In the articles, I reviewed briefly the rep- 
resentative views on these subjects held by some of the 
radical publicists and organizations in this country— Dwight 
Macdonald, the Socialist Workers Party, Sidney Hook, the 
Lovestone group. I submitted them to a criticism from the 
standpoint of revolutionary Marxism, and ended with an 
exposition of our own views, those of the Workers Party. 
On these two most vital of all current problems, war and 
fascism, the articles aimed at eliminating some of the pre- 
vailing confusion, opportunism and even treachery, and at 

reaffirming and fortifying the revolutionary internationalist 
position by means of arguments related to present-day 

The article criticizing the Cannonite position on the war 
and war policy (Labor Action, Nov. 4, 1940) elicited a reply 
in the form not of one but of three articles in the Socialist 
Appeal (Nos. 47, 48, 49) , written by Cannon himself. If 
it were merely a question of a debate with Cannon, the 
matter could be safely allowed to rest with the last of his 
articles, for the sufficient reason that there has seldom been 
any point or profit in a debate on fundamental theoretical 
or political questions with one who lacks most of the ele- 
mentary equipment for it. He usually enters such a discus- 
sion, to use his own words, with "a pair of hip boots and a 
shovel," noble proletarian tools in their field, handy for 
spraying a debate with such compliments as "unscrupulous 
twister", "perverter of historical incidents", "political un- 
derworld", but yet not quite enough for a political debate. 
But much more than Cannon's touching plight is involved 
in this discussion. It is a matter of clarity in the policy of 
a section of the Fourth International on vital questions of 
our period. This alone warrants a return to the discussion 
of Cannon's position. 

Let us first recall this position, as formulated by Cannon 
in two speeches delivered at the S.W.P. Plenum in Chicago 
last September. "These are new times," he said. "The char- 
acteristic feature of our epoch is unceasing war and uni- 
versal militarism." The workers must be armed, and trained 
in the use of arms, for every important problem of our epoch 
will be settled with arms in hand. Even before the first world 
war, socialists said capitalism was outlived and ripe for 
socialism. But when the war broke out "none of the parties 
had the idea that on the agenda stood the struggle for pow- 
er. The stand of the best of them was essentially a protest 
against the war. It did not occur even to the best Marxists 
that the time had come when the power must be seized 
by the workers in order to save civilization from degenera- 
tion. Even Lenin did not visualize the victory of the prole- 
tarian revolution as the immediate outcome of the war." 
The present war is not our war, but as long as the mass of 
(he proletariat goes with it, we will go too, raising our own 
independent program in the army, in the same way as we 
raise it in the factories. The workers do not want the 
country overrun by Hitler's hordes; neither do we. Because 
workers must be armed and trained, and because we have 
no confidence in the ruling class and its officers, we are for 
compulsory military training but undeT trade-union control. 



"The "workers themselves must lake charge of this light 
against Hitler and anybody else who tries to invade their 
rights. That is the whole principle of the new policy that 
has been elaborated for us by comrade Trotsky." (See So- 
cialist Appeal, Oct. 12, 1940.) 

Except for the utterly false estimation of Lenin in the 
last war, and the more than ambiguous slogan of trade- 
union control of military training, there was little to be 
quarreled with in the above exposition. But what, we asked 
in our criticism, was the "new policy" that it marked? To 
this, we concluded, Cannon gave sufficient answer in his 
summarizing speech at the Plenum: 

The gist of the problem, said Cannon, is that the work- 
ers "require a program of military struggle against foreign 
invaders which assures their class independence." If Hit- 
ler attacks us, the social-democrats used to ask, what will 
you do about it? "Well, we answered in a general way, the 
workers will first overthrow the bourgeoisie at home and 
then they will take care of invaders. That was a good pro- 
gram, but the workers did not make the revolution in time. 
Now the two tasks must be telescoped and carried out si- 
multaneously." (See Socialist Appeal, Oct. 26, 1940.) 

This "new" position— that the workers should be for 
"national defense" while the bourgeoisie is still in power, 
and "simultaneously" fight against the bourgeoisie— 1 char- 
acterized with restraint as a concession to social-patriotism 
and a corresponding abandonment of the revolutionary in- 
ternationalist position. 

I hope the reader will forgive me and not interpret what 
I say as cheap boasting or as anything but a simple state- 
ment of fact if I write that I regarded my criticism of Can- 
non's views as so elementary, conclusive and unassailable that 
I freely predicted Cannon would not reply to it. Frankly, 
I expected that he would strike a posture and reply to those 
of his members who are perturbed by the "new line" with 
one of two statements: "Trotsky himself was for our line; 
he even originated it; and that's good enough for us"— or, 
"We are too busy doing mass work to bother with the 
criticisms of a sect." I was wrong, at least in part. He said 
both these things, to be sure, but he did write a series of 
three articles for his public press, commenting on the cri- 
ticism in Labor Action. He even said in the first of his series: 
"His entire article from beginning to end is a mixture of 
confusion and bad faith— a Shachtman 'polemic'. Not a 
single one of his 'points' can stand inspection. In my next 
article I shall undertake to prove this, point by point." But 
while I was wrong, as indicated, yet I was right. Cannon's 
reply is no reply. What he undertook to do, he did not do, 
either in the next article or in the third and last article. 
And, as will be shown below, he not only failed to take up 
my criticism "point by point" but deliberately omitted any 
reference whatsoever to the principal point I made. 

In contrast, I intend to deal with all of the very few 
points Cannon does make, both the relevant and the irrele- 
vant. Let us take them one by one, beginning with the latter. 

Military Policy? What About Burnham? 

I write a criticism of Cannon's "military policy" which 
is either good, bad, or indifferent. Cannon's first retort is: 
What about Burnham? Shachtman's article, you see, "is 
not directed at Burnham; it is intended to drown out the 

question of Burnham by shouting loud and long against 
others." The reader here gets his first example of what 
Cannon means by replying to a criticism "point by point"! 

Yes, Burnham deserted the socialist movement and so- 
cialism. He is not the first deserter and probably not the 
last. But just what is that supposed to prove against our 
party and its political position? Does Cannon want to say 
that Burnham's desertion is a logical outcome of his pre- 
vious adherence to that party and its position? That will 
take a bit of proving. 

Maria Reese was received and hailed by us when she 
quit the German Stalinists. When she deserted to the Nazis, 
the Stalinists argued that her desertion was the "logical out- 
come" of her adherence to Trotskyism. The proof that they 
were disloyal and unscrupulous liars lay in the fact that 
the condition for Reese's Might to the Nazis was her renun- 
ciation of everything the Trotskyist movement stood for. 

Diego Rivera was "protected" by us— by Trotsky, Can- 
non and me— for years from the criticisms of the other Mexi- 
can Fourth Internationalists. Suddenly, he turned up in the 
camp of the reactionary wing of the Mexican bourgeoisie, 
even arguing that this was the only way effectively to fight 
Stalinism. What the Stalinists said about Rivera and Trot- 
skyism is known, or can also be easily imagined. 

Similarly with Chen Tu-hsiu, whom we elected a leader 
of the Fourth International despite the criticisms of the 
Chinese comrades. He has now passed into the camp of the 
imperialist democracies. Suppose I were to say about Can- 
non's article: "It is not directed at Rivera and Chen; it is 
intended to drown out the question of these deserters by 
shouting loud and long against Shachtman." 

Similarly with virtually the whole leadership of the 
Russian Opposition, who, with the renowned exception of 
Trotsky and a few others, deserted the fight and went over 
to Stalinist counter-revolution. In reply to those, who like 
Souvarine, concluded from these desertions that the dis- 
tinction between Trotskyism and Stalinism is insignificant 
and that the one leads easily to the other, we always pointed 
out that for the capitulators to go to Stalinism they had 
to break with the Opposition, its platform and traditions, 
and that there was not "development" from one to the other. 

With due respect to the difference in proportions, the 
same holds true in the case of Burnham. A scrupulous and 
loyal commentator would say: "I have read the Workers 
Party statement expelling Burnham and I have read Burn- 
ham's statement. I must take note that he broke with the 
Workers Party, in his own words, precisely because it was 
a Marxist party, precisely because it rejected (as Burnham 
truthfully points out) every attempt to revise or undermine 
its Marxian position. I must take note, likewise, of the fact 
that Burnham did not take a single member of the Work- 
ers Party along with him in his desertion, that he did not 
find a single supporter in the party's ranks, that his de- 
parture did not create the slightest disturbance in its midst 
—all of which would indicate that, so far as the character 
of the Workers Party is concerned, his desertion had a pure- 
ly individual and not a broader political or sympotatic sig- 
nificance." That is what a scrupulous and loyal commentator 
would say. A demagogue, of course, would speak differently. 
But our cruel times, and long years of them, have inured 
us against demagogues. 


Lenin Has a Defender 

One of the motivations for the "new policy" (which 
really isn't a new policy at all, we are assured, but only "an 
extension of the old policy, and adaptation of old principles 
to new conditions") , is that in the first world war, not even 
Lenin— much less others— had the perspective of revolution 
breaking out in direct connection with the war, that "even 
Lenin did not visualize the victory of the proletarian revo- 
lution as the immediate outcome of the war." Cannon seeks 
to justify his present policy (otherwise, why the reference 
to Lenin?) by contrasting to Lenin's perspective of 19.14- 
1916, the 'immediacy of the revolutionary perspective in 
connection with the present war." 

In my Labor Action article, I quoted from Lenin to 
show that his whole course in the last war was based on the 
conception of a socialist revolution in Europe (in Russia, 
a "democratic revolution") in direct connection with the 
war, a fact which we thought was generally known in the 
Marxist movement. But this is too much for a patient and 
tolerant Cannon, who will stand for a lot, but not for any- 
body tampering with Leninism. Choking with indignation, 
he accuses me of literary charlatanry, quotation-twisting, 
distortion, mutilation and common forgery. "It is a matter 
of simple respect to his [Lenin's] memory to protect him 
from the hypocritical support of an advocate who is known 
among Leninists only as a betrayer of Leninism." As a be- 
trayer, and what's more, only as a betrayer of Leninism. The 
steam behind these blows is terrific and they are delivered 
with all the weight and effectiveness of a Tony Galento 
boxing with his own shadow for the benefit of the customers 
assembled at his bar. But not even a graceful fighter ever 
hurt anybody shadow-boxing. 

It seems, you see, that I left a sentence out of the middle 
of my quotation from Lenin, and ended when I should have 
continued. And what did I omit? Nothing less than Lenin's 
reference to the need of revolutionary propaganda "inde- 
pendent of whether the revolution will be strong enough 
and whether it will come in connection with the first or 
second imperialist war, etc." The italics are triumphantly 
supplied by Cannon. This triumph is buttressed by two 
other quotations from Lenin in 1916 and early 1917, straight 
from the original Russian edition: (1) "It is possible, 
however, that five, ten and even more years will pass be- 
fore the beginning of the socialist revolution," and (2) 
"We, the older men, will perhaps not live long enough to 
see the decisive battles of the impending revolution." Can- 
non is so carried away by his researches into the original 
Russian, that where Lenin said "it is possible" and "per- 
haps", he sums it up by saying: "Lenin wrote in Switzer- 
land that his generation would most probably not see the 
socialist revolution." (My italics— M.S.) 

Now, what is the point of this otherwise absurd counter- 
posing of quotations? We shall soon see that it has more of 
a practical than an academic aim. Let us begin by exam- 
ining what Cannon set out to prove by his reference to 
Lenin in the last war. 

In the first place, he declared that "when the W^orld 
War started in 1914 none of the parties had the idea that 
on the agenda stood the struggle for power. The stand of 
the best of them was essentially a protest against the war. 
It did not occur even to the best Marxists that the time had 
come when the power must be seized by the workers in 
order to save civilization from degeneration." 

In reply I quoted several statement made during the 
war by Lenin and the Bolsheviks which sound as though 
they were uttered in anticipatory refutation of the assertion 
by Cannon. According to the latter, none of the parties, not 
even Lenin's, had the idea that the struggle for power, the 
socialist revolution, was on the order of the day. In October, 
1914, the Bolsheviks wrote: "The war has placed on the 
order of the day the slogan of a socialist revolution" in 
western Europe. At the end of 1916, Lenin wrote: "In the 
years 1914 to 1916 the revolution stood on the order of 
the day." 

Cannon wisely ignores this and takes refuge in his sec- 
ond assertion: "Even Lenin did not visualize the victory of 
the proletarian revolution as the immediate outcome of the 
war." To make even plainer what he meant by this state- 
ment made at the September Plenum, he points out to me 
in his Appeal articles that Lenin of course had a revolution- 
ary program during the war— but, he had been preaching 
revolution since 1901, as Marx had since 1847; more to the 
point, he was not dead certain that "we, the older men" 
would live to see the victorious revolution, that it was possi- 
ble for the revolution to be postponed to a period long 
after the first world war. "Shachtman twisted it [i.e., what 
Cannon said] and distorted it into a denial that Lenin had 
a 'program of revolution,' during the war. But I think it 
is thoroughly clear to a disinterested reader that I was 
speaking of something else, namely, Lenin's expectations 
as to the immediate outcome of the war, and not at all of 
what he wanted and what he advocated." 

But Cannon is no better off with his .second assertion 
than with his first. He either does not understand or does 
noi want to understand what is involved, cither in Lenin's 
time or now, by the conception of "revolutionary perspec- 
tive." In the first world war, Lenin did have a revolutionary 
perspective. He did believe and he said that the socialist 
revolution is on the agenda. But he did not and could not 
divorce this belief from the state of the living revolutionary 
forces at" Hand for realizing this perspective. He knew then, 
as he put it years later, that there is no "absolutely hope- 
less" situation for the bourgeoisie— either in the last war or 
in the present one. That, and that alone, is why he could 
say, not only in January, 1917, a few weeks before the up- 
rising in Russia, but from the beginning of the war, that it 
was "possible" that years and even decades would pass be- 
fore the socialist victory, that his generation would "perhaps" 
not see it. In October, 1914, he wrote to Shliapnikov about 
the slogan of converting the imperialist war into a civil 
war: "No one would venture to vouch when and to what 
extent this preaching will be justified in practise: that is 
not the point (only low sophists renounce revolutionary 
agitation on the grounds that it is uncertain when a revo- 
lution would take place) . The point lies in such a line of 
work. Only such work is socialistic and not chauvinistic and 
it alone will yield socialistic fruit, revolutionary fruit." All 
his writings and doings in the period of the war were 
equally animated by this conception and spirit. 

In other words, while Lenin had a revolutionary perspec- 
tive, and repeated that the struggle for power was on the 
order of the day, he did not guarantee that the actual pro- 
letarian rising would occur on this or that day, and he did 
not guarantee either that the first rising would lead to vic- 
tory. He would not and could not say whether the revolu- 
tion "will come in connection with the first or second im- 
perialist war". Not only Lenin, but Trotsky as well. Dealing 


in his War and the International in 1915 with the alterna- 
tives of revolution or capitalist peace and temporary stabi- 
lization, Trotsky wrote: "Which of the two prospects is the 
more probable? This cannot possibly be theoretically deter- 
mined in advance. The issue depends entirely upon the 
activity oj the vital forces of society— above all upon the 
revolutionary social democracy." (My emphasis— M.S.) And 
so it does today also. 

"Lenin," writes Cannon, "obviously was not arguing 
about the immediacy of the revolution as we visualize it in 
connection with the present war, but about the necessity of 
advocating it and preparing for it." Cannon's persistency 
in arguing this point is noteworthy. Lenin didn't see revo- 
lution as the immediate outcome of the war. Presumably, 
Cannon's repetition of this statement means that he, on the 
contrary, does have the perspective of an immediate revo- 
lution in conection with the war. Lenin wasn't entirely sure 
of "the victory of the proletarian revolution as the imme- 
diate outcome of the first world war", whereas Cannon is 
sure of the victory this time. And it is this difference that 
apparently warrants the "new policy" which, remember, is 
only an "extension," an "adaptation" of the old. 

But is it not obvious that the only "difference" that 
Cannon could establish with Lenin's perspective in the last 
war is if Cannon did guarantee that "victory of the pro- 
letarian revolution" which Lenin did not visualize? "I was 
speaking of something else, namely, Lenin's expectations 
as to the immediate outcome of the war," Cannon repeats. 
But it is clear that he hasn't read his own program, or else 
doesn't remember it. Trotsky's last important political docu- 
ment was the Manifesto on the war written for the Fourth 
International less than a year ago. There we find (1) on 
Lenin's perspective in the last war: "Only the Russian party 
of the Bolsheviks represented a revolutionary force at that 
time [the outbreak of the first world war]. But even the 
latter, in its overwhelming majority failed, except for a 
small emigre group around Lenin, to shed its national nar- 
rowness and to rise to the perspective of the world revolu- 
tion." (Remember Cannon on Lenin? that the position of 
even the best Marxists in 1914 "was essentially a protest 
against the war"?l) And (2) on the Fourth International's 
perspective in the present war: "The capitalist world has no 
way out, unless a prolonged death agony is so considered. 
It is necessary to prepare for long years, if not decades, of 
war, uprisings, brief interludes of truce, new wars and new 
uprisings." Long years, if not decades— that is entirely cor- 
rect, not because we believe the revolution's triumph will 
be postponed for decades, but because we cannot guarantee 
that the victory will come six months from now or a year. 

If Cannon had wanted to say that world capitalism has 
less right to expect long life in connection with the second 
world war than the first, that its objective possibilities of 
stabilization are fewer in our time than in Lenin's, he could 
have done it without all his revealing juggling with words 
and quotations about Lenin's "expectations" and "perspec- 
tives". If he were concerned in reality with the objective 
question of perspectives and tasks in Lenin's time and in our 
own, he would simply have said: "Like Lenin, we of the 
Fourth International today have the same revolutionary 
perspective. The socialist revolution is here, on the order of 
the day. Only, the working class is not prepared for it. The 
revolutionists are few in number, and isolated. The task, 
now as then, is the preparation of the revolutionists and the 
mobilization of the working class, for the realization of this 

perspective which is, always was and always will be indiv- 
isible from our own policies and activities." 

But that is not the point with which Cannon is con- 
cerned. He pursues much more practical aims than the 
somewhat academic dispute over what Lenin's expectations 
were and what his perspectives were. His aims relate pre- 
cisely to "policies and activities." The reference to Lenin is 
only calculated to "prove" that "we" must have a different 
policy in the second world war because Lenin had a different 
perspective in the last one. The fact that Cannon had to dis- 
tort Lenin's views in the last war already speaks badly for 
the "new policy" he is currently advocating. " 

Before proceeding to it, let us deal with one other little 
matter, in accordance with the promise that no point made 
by Cannon will be left unanswered. 

Trotsky, Too, Has a Defender 

"Against whom is Shachtman really defending Lenin?" 
asks Cannon. "To be sure, he mentions only 'Cannon' but 
it is perfectly obvious that Cannon in this case is only 
serving Shachtman as a pseudonym for the real target of his 
attack. My remarks about Lenin's perspective during the first 
world war were no more and no less than a simple repetition 
of what Trotsky said on the subject." And further: "Shacht- 
man's attack on 'Cannon' in behalf of Lenin is in reality 
aimed against Trotsky in a cowardly and indirect manner. 
He wants to set Lenin against Trotsky, to make a division 
in the minds of the radical workers between Lenin and 
Trotsky, to set himself up as a 'Leninist' with the sly intima- 
tion that Leninism is not the same thing as Trotskyism. 
There is a monstrous criminality in this procedure. The 
names of Lenin and Trotsky are inseparably united in the 
Russian Revolution, its achievements, its doctrines and 
traditions, and in the great struggle for Bolshevism waged 
by Trotsky since the death of Lenin. 'Lenin-Trotsky'— those 
two immortal names are one. Nobody yet has tried to sep- 
arate them; that is, nobody but scoundrels and traitors." 

There it is, both barrels, but the reader can sit quietly 
in his chair. The noise is nothing but stage thunder, the 
brandished sword is only a lath, and the theatrical posturing 
is nothing but theatrical posturing. 

My article did not aim at polemizing against Trotsky. It 
did not even aim with monstrous criminality to intimate 
slyly that the names of Lenin and Trotsky should be separ- 
ated I know fairly well where and on what points and in 
what struggles the two names are inseparable; I know also 
on what points the names represent differences of opinion, 
even sharp ones. If Cannon wants to set up a privately- 
owned two-headed deity exempt from profane criticism, he 
may be allowed to imitate the Stalinists in this procedure 
as he has in others. But that is not my concern here any 
more than it was in my original article. 

I did not criticize Trotsky explicitly in my article, al- 
though I stated that Cannon's policy apparently originated 
(but was not necessarily identical) with Trotsky. Why 
didn't I? What Trotsky's views were on the questions cov- 
ered in Cannon's new policy, I know only from a couple of 
brief letters reprinted in the Fourth International, and from 
a few paragraphs in the disjointed notes drafted for an 
article which Trotsky's death prevented him from elabor- 
ating and completing. From these fragments I have not the 
possibility nor the right to formulate a rounded opinion of 
what Trotsky's views on the subject really were, nor to 


what extent they jibed with the views developed by Can- 
non at his Plenum after Trotsky's death. Assassination pre- 
vented Trotsky from developing his point of view, from 
motivating it fully, from defending it critically or polemical- 
ly, and from revising it in one or another direction in the 
light of further reflection or of criticism. I feel perfectly 
free in polemizing against Trotsky's views on the class na- 
ture of the Soviet state, for example, because they are views 
that he had the opportunity to state elaborately and over 
a period of years. The same does not hold for views which, 
so far as I am aware, are presented in the course of a few 
paragraphs or pages, and no more; views which, moreover, 
it is no longer possible for their author- to elaborate upon 
or to defend from criticism. Hence, I refrain from criticizing 
Trotsky on the question at issue, and direct my remarks in- 
stead at Cannon. 

And Cannon? He makes no serious effort to answer the 
criticism. He weaves and bobs around a bit, but in the end 
he starts whining and running to hide behind Trotsky's 
skirts. "It wasn't I who said it, it was Trotsky." Let us sup- 
pose that Trotsky did say what Cannon writes, although that 
is not quite the case. That would be beside the point. Our 
dispute is not over what Trotsky said, but over what Lenin 
said, what his views were. And in this particular instance, 
I consider it preferable to conduct the discussion by refer- 
ring to Lenin's own words than to have Cannon cut off 
the discussion by referring to what Trotsky is supposed to 
have said and meant about Lenin. 

Fnally, I have never considered it a mark of distinction 
or a special virtue to go around "disagreeing" with Trotsky, 
or Lenin, or Marx. At the same time, in my twelve years in 
the Trotskyist movement, I always voiced my opinion when 
I believed that I had grounds for a serious disagreement 
with Trotsky, and I argued for my views until one or an- 
other of us was convinced otherwise. The organizational 
separation that occurred last year was not of our choosing 
and was not consummated without regret. But whatever 
views we held we stated openly, and whatever steps we took 
we prepared and took openly. I never went about secretly, 
among a few close chums, laying the basis for an organiza- 
tional split with Trotsky over some difference or grievance, 
real or alleged. As Cannon knows, he cannot say the same. 

Trade-Union Control— Of What Army? 

In Trotsky's fragmentary notes referred to above, he 
points out that Lenin's concept of "Turn the imperialist 
war into a civil war" was "the basis for propaganda and 
for training the cadres but it could not win the masses 
who did not want a foreign conqueror." The Russian masses 
were won to the revolution by such simple slogans as "Land, 
Bread, Peace, All Power to the Soviets." We tried in vain 
to explain this to Cannon during the last discussion in the 

The transitional program of the Fourth International 
adopted three years ago, while animated through and through 
with revolutionary internationalism, at the same time took 
into account the progressive, or potentially progressive, anti- 
fascist patriotism of the masses. At present, this sentiment 
is hideously exploited by the ruling classes for the most re- 
actionary objectives. It is necessary, we said, to utilize this 
sentiment of the masses, their hatred and fear of fascism, for 
working-class objectives. Given the world social crisis and 
the imminence of the second world war, knowing from 

old times the futility and worse of pacifist opposition to 
militarism and war, we raised the slogan of Workers' De- 
fense Guards and a People's Army. In effect, we said to the 
workers: You want to fight fascism, to preserve your rights 
and labor institutions? Good, so do we. We even want to go 
further, and extend those rights, make them more genuine 
and durable. Only, we warn you that under the leadership 
of the bourgeoisie, and in the course of the war that it 
will carry on in the democracies against Germany, we will 
merely end up under a totalitarian regime in our own 
country. Organize armed and trained forces of your own, 
under your own leadership and control, and then you will 
not only be able to meet the threat of fascism at home and 
abroad, but you will be assured that in the course of the 
fight imperialist interests will not be served and all demo- 
cratic rights destroyed. 

These ideas, and the slogans represented by them, were 
and remain entirely correct and we, for our part, continue 
to put forward and defend them. 

The new policy of the Cannonites, however, is some- 
thing else again. First, with the adoption of the new policy, 
they dropped entirely the fight against bourgeois militarism 
represented concretely by the drive to impose conscription 
upon the American people. Not only dropped the fight, 
but by their repeated nonsense in the Socialist Appeal 
about how the workers were overwhelmingly in favor of 
conscription, by their ridicule of any opposition to conscrip- 
tion as "poisonous" and "sinister" and "petty-bourgeois pac- 
ifism," they sabotaged any fight against it, introducing, at 
best, only confusion among the radical workers. On the 
score of this indictment I made of the Cannonite policy, 
Cannon, who is to answer "point by point", is utterly silent. 

In the midst of the bourgeois conscription campaign, 
the Cannonites came forward with the slogan of "Trade- 
union control of conscription" or "Compulsory military 
training under trade-union control." The objective effect 
of this slogan, in so far as it would have an effect among 
the workers, could only be to facilitate the drive of the 
imperialists. The slogan could represent one of two ideas, 
but not both at the same time. (1) It means that the trade 
unions and other workers' organizations should take the 
initiative in organizing their own training camps, their 
own armed and trained forces, entirely under their control 
and management and democratically run by the workers 
themselves. But if this is what Cannon means by the slogan, 
wherein, except in words, does it differ from the slogan the 
S.W.P. had up to yesterday and which we still advocate, 
namely, Organize a People's Army? In my article, I asked 
that question specifically of Cannon. There is no reply. Or 
(2) the slogan means that the trade unions should demand 
of the government that they be put in control of the present 
U.S. army. Such a slogan, however "attractive" and "prac- 
tical" it may seem, no Marxist could support. As I pointed 
out, it can only have class-collaborationist significance, it 
can only help preserve capitalist illusions among the workers. 

Cannon tries to explain in a vague sort of way that ad- 
vocating the socialist revolution is a propagandist task, 
whereas pressing the transitional program and slogans is 
agitation, calculated to bridge the gap between the present 
working-class mentality and the revolution and to lead the 
workers across this bridge. Good. But a transitional slogan 
must bring them across the bridge and not keep them where 
they are. It must help break down bourgeois and reformist 
prejudices among the workers, and not preserve these prej- 


udices. If the Cannon slogan has the second meaning we 
indicated, then it does the latter. 

Why? The hasic distinction between reformists and revo- 
lutionists, according to Lenin and to all the lessons of mod- 
ern history, is that the former believe or say that the bour- 
geois state machine can be taken hold of by the workers and, 
with some reforms, be used as the instrument for ushering 
in socialism, whereas the Marxists point out that the bour- 
geois state machine must be shattered and an entirely new 
and different one erected in its place before any serious 
progress to socialism is possible. The army and the police, 
the armed forces in general, are the principal prop of the 
bourgeois state machine. To tell the workers that they can 
reform this machine is to abandon one of the principles of 
revolutionary Marxism. The latter calls neither for "trade- 
union control of the government" nor for "trade-union 
control of the army." These are essentially slogans of reform. 

Whatever may be said about Lenin's "perspective" be- 
fore the February, 1917, revolution, it would surely take a 
bolder historian even than Cannon to deny that Lenin had 
an immediate and direct revolutionary perspective after 
that revolution— the struggle for state power which cul- 
minated in October of that year. Yet, while Lenin and the 
Bolsheviks put forward the slogan of "workers' control of 
production", they never advanced the slogan of "workers' 
or Soviet control of the army"— not even of the disrupted 
Czarist army, not even during the period of dual power. 
Why? We demand workers' control of the factories because 
the socialist revolution has no need or desire to replace 
factories with any substitute. We do not demand workers' 
control of the army because we do not want to foster the 
illusion that the proletariat can reform the imperialist 
military machine, because it is the instrument of the capi- 
talist state, because that state, in Lenin's view, has to be 
shattered and cannot be reformed. 

It is interesting to note, that before Lenin's return to 
Russia, Stalin and the right wing who controlled the Bol- 
shevik party and its press, did put forward a slogan analogous 
to Cannon's: The Soviets should control the Provisional 
Government. But Lenin, who was a Marxist and who had a 
revolutionary perspective, made short shrift of the slogan 
immediately upon his arrival. 

Now, in my article, I asked the Cannonites which of the 
two meanings indicated above is the one they give to their 
slogan of "Trade-union control of military training"? The 
question was calculated to open an avenue for explanation. 
Cannon wrote three articles in reply. One would think that 
so bold and forthright a politician, who does not, like his 
critics, stoop to "sly intimation", would give a categorical 
answer to the question. But it is clear: whatever Trotsky 
may have had in mind with regard to the slogan of military 
training for the workers, Cannon is not sure enough of him- 
self to say, simply and directly, that it is the one thing or 
the other. The reader must lumber through a thick mass of 
verbal undergrowths and tree-stumps, so unusual in Can- 
non's style when he has something straightforward to say, 
before he comes to the inescapable conclusion: The Can- 
nonite slogan means "Workers' " control of the imperialist 
army, and not the agitation for an independent People's 
army. Which was to be expected. As wc pointed out weeks 
ago, that has been the line of the Cannonite press, even if 
there also with wlfat, we must repeat, can only be deliberate 

Yet the two slogans, the two concepts, are as different as 

day and night. Each stands on a different class basis, as we 
have indicated. The social -democrats consider that the pres- 
ent national bourgeois state is, fundamentally, theirs, the 
people's. Hence, they demand that the people control it. 
If that were possible— not just theoretically, but in actual 
life— then reformism could bring about the socialist society 
and revolution would be superfluous. What applies to the 
state as a whole, applies with equal if not more force to the 
army of that state. 

Does a policy of "boycotting the army" follow from our 
rejection of the reformist concept? That is an accusation 
the social democrats have hurled at us with reference to 
participation in bourgeois parliament. It is groundless, how- 
ever. We are for participating in elections. We call upon 
the workers to elect their own class representatives to Con- 
gress and Parliament and Reichstag. But we know, alas, that 
the proletariat cannot capture the bourgeois state; at best, 
it can remain its captive. Hence, we do not delude the work- 
ing class with slogans of "workers' control" of Parliament or 
Congress. Again, the same with the army. When the prole- 
tariat is conscripted, naturally, we go along with the work- 
ing class. We do not conduct an individual struggle against 
the bourgeoisie. In the army, we continue to represent the 
best interests of the working class. We stand for the exten- 
sion of the democratic rights of the soldiers. We stand for 
their right to organize and present their demands collective- 
ly. We stand for their right to elect their own officers. But 
we do not delude them or ourselves with slogans of "workers' 
control" of the army. Quite the contrary, the slogans we 
do put forward have a distinctly different objective ... At 
the same lime, we continue to popularize the idea of a 
People's Army, an army organized, trained, led and con- 
trolled by the workers and their organizations. Utopian? 
Yes, to those for whom only war in permanence, capitalist 
domination for another century, working-class servitude 
forever, barbarism and n'sery are not Utopianl But the 
German workers built up .iieir Reichsbanner and Rotfront- 
kampfer Bund, the Russian workers their Workers Guards 
and Red Militia. The relationship of these movements to 
the German Reichswchr and the Czarist Army, respectively, 
is the way we understand the relationship between the Peo- 
ple's Army and the present imperialist army. They are the 
organs of different classes. 

Cannon, who was so insistent on dealing with the class 
nature of the Soviet state as a substitute for answering the 
questions raised by Stalin's invasion of Poland and Finland, 
is mum as a sphinx when it comes to the class nature of 
the army he wants "controlled." More accurately, he implies 
that the army is or can become a working-class institution. 
Indeed, one of his satellites whose ignorance of Marxism 
and politics has already qualified him for the appointment 
as editor of Cannon's theoretical organ, writes a truly ven- 
omous polemic against the conscientious objectors in the 
Socialist Appeal (Nov. 23, 1940) and says: 

"These pacifists who oppose military training must be 
rejected with the utmost contempt by the class-conscious 
worker, just as he would reject with scorn and hate a scab 
who said: 'Unions? No, I will have nothing to do with 
them. They lead to tear gasl I choose independence!' " 

Roosevelt's army is like— a union! Whoever refuses to 
go along with the army-union must be treated by the work- 
ers like a scab. And what about the Fellow-worker Judge 
who sentenced the eight pacifist-student-scabs of the Union 
Theological Seminary to a year and a day in prison— doesn't 


he deserve a kind word for the thorough promptness with 
which he administered justice? And Roosevelt— shall we 
forget him altogether, after the vigorous way he established 
the conscript-army-union? 

The reader may say: After all, the quotation is only an 
accidental outburst by an overzealous dunderhead who was 
mistakenly allowed to write on political questions. The 
reader may be right, at least with reference to the accidental 
nature of the outburst. But, as I pointed out in my original 
article, we have already had from the Cannonites the ac- 
cidental reference to the war industries as "defense indus- 
tries." We have already had the accident of the Appeal stat- 
ing at first that millions of workers and farmers opposed 
conscription, only to change its tune to say that "the work- 
ers were for conscription" as soon as Cannon changed the 
line. We have already had the accident of Goldman's pro- 
posing to drop the slogan of a People's Referendum on 
War, a proposal rejected by Trotsky. We have already had 
the accident of Goldman proposing that "once conscription 
is made into law. we cease to struggle against it", a proposal 
also rejected by Trotsky. We have already had the accident 
of the Cannonites giving up completely, yes, completely, 
any struggle against social-patriotism. Now we have the 
accident that the army is like a union. We are ready to call 
311 these things "accidents," but we refuse to ignore the 
fact that all the accidents are of one type, that they all lead 
in one direction.* 

We Used To, But We Don't Any Longer 

Armed with his favorite weapons, "a pair of hip boots 
and a shovel," Cannon assured his readers that he would 
answer my article "point by point". 

We asked Cannon, who calls us petty-bourgeois pacifists, 
to specify just what is pacifist in our program or activities— 
our opposition to imperialist war and to bourgeois conscrip- 
tion, our advocacy of workers' defense guards and a Peo- 
ple's Army, our economic and political demands for the 
drafted workers? No answer from Cannon, not a word, un- 
less bluster is an answer. 

I asked Cannon why there was not one single, solitary 
syllable in his two speeches at the Plenum and in the Plen- 
um resolution, and, nowadays, in general in the Socialist 
Appeal, about social-patriotism, about the need of combat- 
ting it. The answer he made to this point is satisfactory 
enough— complete and unrelieved silence. 

I asked Cannon if he really believed, and could motivate 
this belief, that what caused the downfall of reformism in 
Europe was Blum's "pacifism" (and not his social-patriotism 
and class collaboration) , and that the main danger in the 
American working class today, in connection with the war, 
is pacifism. The answer made by our "point-by-point" an- 
swerer was, once more, silence. 

Perhaps these are, after all, minor points. But what about 
the principal point that I indicated in Cannon's new line? 
I refer to the section I quoted at length from Cannon's 
summarizing speech in Chicago. In it, Cannon says: We 
used to answer the social-democrats by saying first we would 
overthrow the bourgeoisie and then we would be for na- 
tional defense. "That was a good program, but the workers 
did not make the revolution in time. Now the two tasks 

•As we go to press, we have the latest accident. The leading article In the 
Appeal after Roosevelt's Fireside Chat and Message to Congress has not 
one word to say In criticism of the President's latest and longest step to war 
— not one word. 

must be telescoped and carried out simultaneously." 

I argued that this, and this mainly, was what is new in 
Cannon's policy, and I characterized his formula as essential- 
ly social-patriotic. And what do we hear in reply from the 
"point-by-point" man? Not a word, nothing but the swish 
and slosh of his hip boots and the dull thud of his shovel. 
He just pretends I never mentioned it. He does not give the 
slightest hint that he ever said what I quoted or read what 
I had to say about it. Yet, these sentences are the most im- 
portant part of his two speeches. 

In my earlier article I already pointed out their mean- 
ing. Cannon used to say: We will be defensists when we 
have a country to defend, that is, when the workers have 
taken power in the land, for then it will not be an imperial- 
ist war we are waging but rather a revolutionary war against 
imperialist assailants. But that is only what he used to say. 
Now he says something different, because the revolution did 
not come in time. Now the two tasks— the task of bringing 
about the socialist revolution and defending the fatherland 
—"must be telescoped and carried out simultaneously." 
Evidently, not even Cannon's ability to squirm and twist 
sufficed to explain away his new formula, and silence be- 
came the better part of valor. For if the formula means 
what it says, and it cannot possibly mean anything else, it 
signifies: We will continue to fight capitalism and at the 
same time ("simultaneously") we will defend the Father- 
land, that is, support the war. 

What part of Lenin's garments can Cannon hide behind 
in defense of this formula? What part of Trotsky's writings, 
what little fragment of them, can Cannon find now to en- 
able him to say, "Shachtman is attacking-Trotsky although 
he names only Cannon"? It would be interesting to get an 
answer, if not a "point-by-point" answer, then at least some 
kind of answer. 

In his first article, Cannon "answered" everybody. The 
Ochlcrites, he points out, are against his line. What they 
say about it, he does not even hint at. But they have a 
sectarian mentality in general, and so he passes on to his 
next critic. Who? The S.L.P. What do they say about Can- 
non's line? He doesn't know. "The S.L.P. will surely reject 
our military program if they have not already done so. (God 
forgive me, I don't read the Weekly People as attentively 
as I should and don't know whether they have yet expressed 
themselves) ." This disposes of the S.L.P. in that effective 
manner which marks out Cannon from ordinary men. Then, 
before proceeding to his annihilating, "point-by-point" 
answer to Shachtman, he lingers for a fanciful moment with 
the Lovestoneites. "The Lovestoneites have not yet com- 
mented on our military resolution, as far as I know. But if 
they find it possible to take time off from their frenzied de- 
fense of Great Britain, they will surely attack our resolution 
'from the left' . . ." 

Ah, Cannon, you spoke too soon, forsoothl The Love- 
stone paper, Workers Age, of the same date as the Appeal 
carrying Cannon's above-quoted remarks (Nov. 23, 1940) 
prints an article which gives Cannon's new line the salut 
jratcrnel on both cheeks. It is written by one Donald Gra- 
ham, a finished social-patriot who is hell bent for leather to 
<_>et England all the aid she needs in the war. In his article, 
he defends Lovestone from his critic, Wolfe. He knows, 
mind you, that it's an imperialist war. He is not, God for- 
bid, a mere British patriot. Oh no, he's as revolutionary as 
the next man and just as much for socialism now as yester- 
day. He would have liked to see the workers in power in 


England and even in this country, but, you know, "the 
workers did not make the revolution in time," as Cannon 
says. Now, the foreign invaders must be driven off, Hitler- 
ism— "counter-revolution on the march"— must be halted. 
The reader will surely allow the importance of the quota- 
tion from Mr. Graham to excuse its length: 

"The struggle to defeat fascism is inseparable from and 
inextricably related to the struggle for socialism. Only the 
victory of socialism, as the majority resolution states, could 
solve the problem of the menace of fascism in a 'funda- 
mental' sense. Hitlerism cannot be defeated by suspending 
the class struggle. On the contrary, the taking of socialist 
measures is required to ensure the defeat of Nazism. As 
Lovestone points out, the slogan of Laski (which is also 
that of the I.L.P.) , 'Through Socialism to Victory over 
Hitlerism' is a correct one. This does not mean that you 
do not begin to struggle against a Hitler invasion until the 
day you have socialism in England. It means that the strug- 
gle for socialism and against Hitlerism are inseparable. 
Therefore, the duty of the socialist is not the simple one 
of aiding England to defeat Hitler, but also one of aiding 
the struggle for socialism in England, America and every 
other country in the world. There is no contradiction." 

Lovestone-Graham also used to say, "the workers will 
first overthrow the bourgeoisie at home and then they will 
take care of invaders." But the war came, and not the revo- 
lution. Now, says Lovestone-Graham, "the two tasks must 
be telescoped and carried out simultaneously." We must 
"take care of invaders" ("struggle against a Hitler inva- 
sion") and "simultaneously" we must fight for socialism. 

"There is no contradiction," for it is all done with the aid 
of mirrors. 

Here we can just see Cannon striking another posture: 
"Shachtman, scoundrel and traitor, dares call me a social- 
patriot," and so on to the usual point. The indignation 
will be wasted. I do not call Cannon a social-patriot for 
the good and simple reason that I do not believe he is one. 
I do say, however, that Cannon put forward an essentially 
social-patriotic position in the vitally-important sentences 
we quoted. He has neither explained, defended nor with- 
drawn this position. One or the other he will have to do. 


We said at the beginning of this article that just because 
we are in the midst of wars and revolutions, ambiguity, lack 
of preciseness, theoretical confusion are less permissible 
than ever. Such vices are paid for heavily. It means nothing 
for us to have an "immediate revolutionary perspective" 
unless there is a revolutionary vanguard so trained up in 
theory and activity as to enable it, at the right moment, to 
reduce that perspective to reality. One uncorrected error, 
Trotsky once wrote, leads to many others. Cannon has al- 
ready imposed more than one error upon his party, the 
most serious of which are now involved in his "new" mili- 
tary policy. His resistance to correction is notorious, but 
not always very consequential. In the given case, it can 
prove to have the most harmful effects on the future of a 
party which, as another section of the Fourth International, 
is of direct concern to us. 



submitted by WIL and TO 

The text of this resolution is taken from three undated, mimeographed 
pages entitled "Conference Discussion Material." The resolution was 
adopted by the March 1944 founding conference of the British Revolu- 
tionary Communist Party. 

1 . The Second World War into which capitalism has plunged mankind 
in the course of a generation, and which has been raging for more 
than four years, is the inevitable outcome of the crisis of capital- 
ist methods of production, long predicted by the revolutionary 
Marxists, and is a sign of the impasse out of which capitalism 
cannot lead the mass of humanity. 

2. The war of the British ruling class is not an ideological war 
fought in the interests of democracy against fascism. This has 
been demonstrated clearly by their support of Hitler against the 
German working class; their acquiescence to the seizure of Austria 
and Czechoslovakia; by their cynical policy of non-intervention in 
Spain which enabled Franco to massacre hundreds of thousands of 
Spanish anti-fascist proletarians; and by their support of Darlan 
in North Africa and Badoglio and Victor Emmanuel in Italy. The 
British ruling class is waging the war to maintain its colonial 
plunder, its sources of raw material and cheap labour, its spheres 
of influence and markets, and to extend wherever possible, its 
domination over wider territories. It is the duty of revolutionary 
socialists to patiently explain the imperialistic policy of the 
ruling class and expose its false and lying slogans of the "War 
against Fascism" and the "War for Democracy." 

3. The victory of German fascism and Japanese militarism would be 
a disaster for the working class of the world and for the colonial 
peoples. But no less disastrous would be a victory for Anglo- 
American imperialism. Such a victory would perpetuate and intensify 
the imperialist contradictions which gave rise to fascism and the 
present world war and will inevitably lead to new fascist and 
reactionary regimes and a Third World War. 

4. The British working class, therefore, cannot support the war 
conducted by the ruling class without at the same time opposing its 
own class interests on a national and international scale. Our 
party is opposed to the war and calls upon the working class to 
oppose it. Only by overthrowing the capitalist state and taking 
power into its own hands under the leadership of the Fourth Interna- 
tional, can the British working class wage a truly revolutionary 
war and aid the German and European working class to destroy fascism 
and capitalist reaction. 



5. By their support of the war the Trade Unions, the Labour Party 
and the Communist Party, with their satellite organisations, have 
betrayed the historic interests of the working class and the inter- 
ests of the colonial masses oppressed by British imperialism. It 
is the duty of revolutionary socialists to mercilessly expose the 
leadership of these organisations as agents of the ruling class in 
the ranks of the workers and to win over the broad mass of the 
workers from the leadership of these organisations to the party of 
the Fourth International. 

6. The outbreak of the war created a new objective situation in 
which the revolutionaries had to conduct their political activity. 
Millions of workers--men and women--the most youthful and virile 
section of the population, are conscripted into the armed forces. 
The war not only changed the way in which millions of workers are 
forced to live, but also their level of political consciousness. 
War and militarism has penetrated every phase of, and become the 
basis of, their lives. 

7. It would be a mistake on the part of the revolutionary social- 
ists to lump the defencist feeling of the broad mass of the workers 
together with the chauvinism of the Labour and Stalinist leadership. 
This defencism of the masses stems largely from entirely progressive 
motives of preserving their own class organisations and democratic 
rights from destruction at the hands of fascism and from a foreign 
invader. The mass chauvinistic enthusiasm of the last war is 
entirely absent in the present period. Only a deep-seated suspicion 
of the aims and slogans of the ruling class is evident. To separate 
the workers from the capitalists and their lackeys, is the principal 
task of the revolutionary party. 

8. The policy of our party must be based upon the objective condi- 
tions in which we live, including the level of consciousness of the 
masses, and must help the masses in the process of their daily 
struggles along the road to the seizure of power. 

9. In the present period all great social changes will be made by 
military means. Our party takes the capitalist militarisation of 
the millions, not merely as the basis for the restatement of our 
fundamental principles and aims, but for the purpose of propagating 
positive political ideas and policies in the ranks of the working 
class as an alternative to the class programme of the bourgeoisie. 
This necessitates the supplementing of our transitional programme 
with a policy adapted to the needs of the working class in a period 
of militarisation and war. Our attitude towards war is not based 
merely on the rejection of the defence of the capitalist fatherland 
but on the conquest of power by the working class and the defence 
of the proletarian fatherland. From this conception flows the 
proletarian military policy of the Fourth International. 

10. In the last war socialist pacifism and conscientious objection 
were progressive and even revolutionary in opposition to the policy 
of national unity and support for capitalist militarism which was 
advocated by the chauvinists. But thirty years of class struggle 


have clearly and decisively demonstrated that such policies act as 
a brake on the socialist revolution and serve only to separate the 
conscious revolutionaries from the mass of the working class caught 
up in the military machine. To this negative policy must be coun- 
terposed a positive policy which separates the workers from their 
exploiters in the military organisations. 

1 1 . The working class and the revolutionary socialists are com- 
pelled to participate in the military organisations controlled by 
the capitalist state. But to the capitalist militarism for capital- 
ist ends, the revolutionary socialists must counterpose the neces- 
sity of proletarian militarism for proletarian ends. Our military 
policy defends the rights and interests of the working class against 
its class enemy; at every point we place our class programme against 
the class programme of the bourgeoisie. 

12. The Labour Party, the Communist Party, the I.L.P. and the 
sectarians have also policies for the workers in arms. But these 
policies are reformist, based upon the perspective of the continued 
control of the state in the hands of the bourgeoisie. These poli- 
cies contain only a series of minor democratic and financial reforms 
which do not lead to the overthrow of the bourgeoisie and the con- 
quest of power by the working class. 

13. Our party is for the arming of the working class under the 
control of workers' organisations, the trade unions, workers' 
committees and political parties. 

We are against the special schools controlled by the capital- 
ists for the training of their sons and agents for the highest 
posts of command and technicians of the military arts. 

We are for state-financed schools, controlled by the trade 
unions and workers' organisations for the purpose of training 
worker-officers, who will know how to defend the interests of the 
working class. 

We are against the selection of the officers in the armed 
forces, including the Home Guard, by the bourgeoisie and its state 
machine. This selection takes place on the basis of class loyalty 
to the capitalists and hatred of the working class. We are for the 
election of officers in the armed forces by the men in the ranks. 

These are the positive steps which our party advocates in its 
proletarian military policy, and which supplements our general 
transitional programme in the struggle for power. Such a policy, 
not only caters for the needs of the workers in uniform in their 
day to day struggle against the reactionary officer caste, but by 
its thoroughly anti-pacifist character, prepares the working class 
for the inevitable military attacks which will be launched against 
it by the exploiters at home, and for the defense of the proletarian 
fatherland against reactionary war of intervention. 


submitted by the Militant Group 

The text of this resolution is taken from a bulletin entitled "Reso- 
lutions submitted by the Militant Group (R.S.L.) to the R.S.L.-W.I .L. 
Fusion Conference, " dated March 1944. 

1 ) . This Conference declares that there must be no room for ambigu- 
ity in our organisation with regard to our attitude in the event of 
the invasion of imperialist Britain by the forces of a rival imperi- 
alist power. Our attitude is determined by our estimation of the 
war as an imperialist one. In such a war, "national defence" means 
defence of colonial booty and imperialist exploitation. Further- 
more, defeats of British Imperialism, by weakening it, facilitate 
its overthrow at the hands of the revolutionary proletariat. 

2). As Lenin put it, "We will not become partisans of national 
defence until after the seizure of power by the proletariat, until 
after the offer of peace. .. .Until the moment of the seizure of 
power by the proletariat, we are for the proletarian revolution, we 
are against the war, we are against the 'def encists ' . " (August, 

3). Consequently, we must reject, on grounds of revolutionary 
principle, all policies stating or implying that the British prole- 
tariat should resist a foreign imperialist invasion before it, the 
British proletariat, has obtained state power. We reject such 
policies, regardless of whether they advocate class-collaboration 
in an open form, e.g., working-class support for the bourgeois state 
against invasion, or in a concealed form, e.g., "independent" 
working-class military struggle against invasion within the 
bourgeois state, that is, before the proletariat has seized power. 



The text of this resolution, which was submitted to the March 1944 
founding conference of the British Revolutionary Communist Party by 
the Left Faction of the former RSL, is taken from six unsigned, 
undated pages headlined only with the title of the resolution. 


This Conference declares that the policy of revolutionary 
defeatism as laid down by Lenin during the First World War is en- 
tirely applicable to the present conflict. No new factors have 
arisen which can justify a departure from this fundamental proletar- 
ian policy towards Imperialist War. 

The view that the rise of fascism constitutes a new factor 
warranting the abandonment of the policy of revolutionary defeatism 
and the adoption of a defencist policy is a manifestation of petty- 
bourgeois ideology and is irreconcilable with the profession of 
socialist internationalism. The policy of revolutionary defeatism 
is applicable in all belligerent imperialist powers irrespective of 
the state f orm--whether fascist or democratic. 

The existence of the Soviet Union warrants only tactical 
changes. It cannot justify an abandonment of the basic expression 
of the class struggle in war time--the policy of revolutionary 


The policy of revolutionary defeatism constitutes an assurance 
that there will be no capitulation to bourgeois ideology. It guar- 
antees that the struggle for socialism will be carried on unaffected 
by fears of it facilitating "national disaster." 

The fear of "National disaster" is the main weapon in the 
hands of the bourgeoisie for the maintenance of its hegemony in war 
time for it is the source of all opportunist (chauvinist) devia- 
tions, hence the Leninist axiom--"A revolutionary class in a reac- 
tionary war cannot but desire the defeat of its own government" 
constitutes the premise of every truly revolutionary action in war 
time . 

Such a desire and only such a desire is compatible with genuine 
class struggle. Revolution in war time is civil war, and the trans- 
formation of war between governments into civil war is on the one 
hand facilitated by military reverses (defeats) of governments, on 



the other hand it is impossible really to strive for such a trans- 
formation without thereby facilitating defeat. 

The desire of defeat must not be relinquished even where it is 
clear that such defeat carries with it the military victory of the 
enemy bourgeoisie. Defeat, even though it be by a "fascist" coun- 
try, demoralises not the proletariat but the bourgeoisie hence such 
a defeat constitutes not an aid but an obstacle to the victory of 

Fascism can in no wise be imposed by an army of occupation. 
Fascism is based on the demoralisation of the working class and the 
destruction of its organisations and must not be confused with a 
military dictatorship. The demoralisation of the proletariat which 
is the fundamental condition for the victory of fascism can derive 
only from its failure to achieve socialism after a favourable oppor- 
tunity has presented itself. Then and only then does the "initia- 
tive" pass to the frenzied petty bourgeoisie--which acting as agents 
of the big bourgeoisie, vents its despair--in the form of hate, 
upon the proletariat. Under a military occupation the petty bour- 
geoisie is more inclined to direct its hate against the foreign 
army, not against the proletariat. Fascism can only be "home 
grown." Nor is the victory of democratic imperialism in any way 
other than that of disintegrating and demoralising the bourgeoisie 
whose power is exercised through a fascist state, conducive to the 
restoration of "democracy." 

In the conditions of imperialist war the distinction between 
decaying democracy and murderous fascism disappears in the face of 
the collapse of the entire capitalist system . From the point of 
view of the British Workers the victory of German Imperialism is 
preferable to the victory of "democratic" Britain and conversely 
from the point of view of the German workers the victory of Britain 
is preferable to the victory of "fascist" arms. The class conscious 
proletarian sees in such victories only the defeat and humiliation 
of his own exploiters which he ardently desires. 

The proletarian does not regard imperialist war as simply a 
war between governments hence he does not consider that to desire 
the defeat of one ' s own government is the same as desiring the 
victory of the "enemy" government. In a war between governments he 
is neutral, but imperialist war is a manifestation of the class 
conflict within society consequently he is not neutral towards his 
own bourgeoisie, he is not impartial towards the military fate of 
his own oppressor but desires the defeat of his own ruling class-- 
the class which directly exploits him. 

To his own bourgeoisie he is related by the fact of direct 
exploitation, to the enemy bourgeoisie he is related on the one 
hand by the fact of it being the enemy of his own bourgeoisie in a 
war between governments, and by the fact of it being the oppressor 
of his class brother--the proletarian of the "enemy" country. Thus 
his only real enemy (sole enemy if allied countries are excluded) is 
his own bourgeoisie, in relation to the imperialist war he is 


neutral to the enemy bourgeoisie (desiring neither victory nor 
defeat), but of course desires its defeat by his brother proletar- 
ian. Thus also is it impossible for the proletariat to strike a 
blow in war time at the enemy bourgeoisie without striking at the 
proletariat of the "enemy" country and aiding its own bourgeoisie. 

International action in war time is directed solely against 
one ' s own bourgeoisie . 

Lenin's axiom is the prerequisite for serious revolutionary 
action, not because revolution is impossible without military de- 
feat, history proves only that defeats are more advantageous to the 
revolutionary proletariat than victories, but because the proletar- 
iat and in particular the vanguard of the proletariat is rendered 
impotent unless it desires the defeat of its own government . 


Revolutionary defeatism counterposes to the bourgeois necessity 
of achieving victory the necessity of the proletariat desiring the 
defeat of its own government. To the bourgeois lie that the enemy 
country is the cause of the war it counterposes the concept of our 
own bourgeoisie bearing to us sole responsibility for the war and 
its effects. To hatred of the enemy--f raternisation, to imperialist 
war--civil war for socialism. The task of the revolutionary party 
is to destroy the influence of bourgeois ideology upon the masses 
and to impose a socialist ideology upon the struggles of the prole- 
tariat. In war time the most pernicious and dangerous illusion is 
defencism. Defencism is a manifestation of nationalism—revolution- 
ary defencism of national socialism. It is an insuperable obstacle 
to fraternisation and the achievement of international socialism. 
Hence the substitution of defeatism for defencism is of vital impor- 
tance. The destruction of the elements of chauvinism can be accom- 
plished only by counterposing the class needs of the masses to the 
national needs--the needs of the bourgeoisie. 

The defencism of the masses is mixed with many progressive 
sentiments and class instincts. The development of these features 
into a socialist consciousness cannot be accomplished simply by 
supporting the progressive features for to the masses they are 
inextricably mixed with the defencist illusions, but only by coun- 
terposing the one to the other . 

Failure to bring the class features into opposition to the 
nationalistic features means to give a "left" covering to patriot- 
ism. This is the role of charlatans. Attempts to capture the 
leadership of the workers on any other basis than that of revolu- 
tionary defeatism will lead to social-patriotism, to the destruction 
of the Revolutionary Party. This is not to say that the masses can 
be won to the banner of the Fourth International on the slogans of 
"turn imperialist war into civil war," etc., but slogans which are 
evasive and ambiguous with regard to the proletarian attitude to 
the war are a betrayal of socialist internationalism . 


The value of all slogans, demands, etc., must be measured by 
the extent to which they enlighten the masses, destroy bourgeois 
ideological influence, raise socialist consciousness. During an 
imperialist war--especially prior to the revolutionary upsurge this 
means above all the raising of the internationalism of the workers. 
Therefore it is necessary to patiently explain the nature of the 
war, its incompatibility with working-class interests, and the 
necessity of fraternisation with the workers in the "enemy" country 
on the basis of class struggle each against his own ruling class. 
At first the Revolutionary Party can expect only to swim against 
the stream, but on its ability to do this depends its whole future. 
If it makes the smallest concession to defencism and fails to cor- 
rect it, it is irretrievably lost. 


Revolutionary Defencism constitutes an attempt to reconcile 
the socialist tasks of the proletariat with the bourgeois task of 
resisting defeat. It is an expression of petty-bourgeois ideology. 
Revolutionary Defencism seeks to present the revolution as a means 
of defeating the imperialist enemy, or of opposing defeat of one's 
own country by the enemy. The socialist revolution is not a means 
of solving bourgeois national problems, but of resolving the con- 
flict between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. The bourgeois 
nationalist problems of the imperialist belligerents were solved 
nearly a century ago. The policy of revolutionary defencism might 
possess some justification in a colonial war, at least if undertaken 
in a spirit of internationalism, but its application to an imperial- 
ist war is nothing but the policy of the social-chauvinist Kautsky, 
the "internationalism" of which serves only to justify the working 
class in every country with the defence each of its own fatherland. 
It is a betrayal of international socialism. 

Such a policy, notwithstanding its "revolutionary" flavour, 
cannot advance the working class one real step forward. Defencist 
illusions do not constitute a means of achieving the socialist 
revolution, they only bar the way to an internationalist attitude 
which is the prerequisite for fraternisation and the transformation 
of imperialist war into civil war. 

Revolutionary defencism has found numerous specious formula- 
tions--telescoping the tasks of winning the war and the revolution, 
defeating one's own bourgeoisie first . The use of such general 
formulas as "The workers everywhere are the enemies of the bourgeoi- 
sie everywhere and working-class action in our own country encour- 
ages working-class action in the enemy country," serve as a cover 
for defencism. The former as a justification of "neither victory 
nor defeat," and the latter to justify a desire for the military 
defeat of the enemy. Even fraternisation has been presented as a 
weapon, not against our own bourgeoisie but against the enemy bour- 
geoisie also. The practical results of this "internationalism" in 
the spirit of Kautsky have been the American Military Policy, 
demands for efficient military equipment, deep shelters, better 


rationing, increased production, etc. Slogans which can only drive 
the workers further into the blind alley of defencism, into dis- 
illusionment and demoralisation. 

The American Military Policy (Chicago Conference Policy) is 
not a working-class policy but a petty-bourgeois hotch potch. It 
represents a fundamental departure from the traditions of the Fourth 
International. It adopts the view that this imperialist war would 
be progressive if it were under workers control, "we never... give 
them (the capitalists) any confidence in their conduct of the war." 
As a general formula it is true a workers state wages progressive 
wars but we are confronted with specific conditions--not abstrac- 
tions. This war is an imperialist war in which millions of workers 
are engaged in the slaughter of their class brothers at the behest 
of their own exploiters. It is reactionary to demand that this 
bloody slaughter, this crime should be conducted " under workers 
control . " Moreover the fact of the workers in each country demand- 
ing of its own bourgeoisie that it be made responsible for the 
slaughter of its fellow-workers cannot lead to international social- 
ism, hence the "workers control" can never be realised, it remains 
an empty phrase. All that remains is support of the imperialist 
war . 

The American Military Policy advocated that the workers should 
"fight against sending of worker-soldiers into battle without proper 
training and equipment." This is alleged to be a translation of 
Trotsky's Military Policy. However the class-conscious proletarian 
can distinguish between not wishing to permit one's own bourgeoisie 
recklessly to squander the lives of workers even though it be in 
the slaughter of brother workers and demanding the efficient prose- 
cution of that slaughter. 

The demand for deep shelters--a specific demand which flows 
from acceptance of the American Military Policy can only be distin- 
guished from the demand for superior weapons of war by drawing an 
absolute distinction between offence and defence and between mili- 
tary personnel and civilians. The demand springs from the masses 
because they accept the necessity of winning the war and desire to 
protect their lives. The necessity of winning the war is a product 
of bourgeois deception and is reactionary. The desire to protect 
one's life is not specifically working-class--nor for that matter 
specifically human. It becomes specifically working-class only if 
it means protection of working-class lives (soldiers no less than 
civilians) from the attacks of one ' s own bourgeoisie, i.e., if 
one ' s own bourgeoisie is held responsible for the war and its 
effects (bombing); but in this case the demand for shelters is non- 
sensical. The demand for shelters is in fact directed only in form 
against one's own bourgeoisie, in essence it is an act of aggression 
against the proletariat of the "enemy" country. It is a betrayal 
of international class solidarity. 

Similarly the demand for "increased production" springs from 
the desire to "defeat fascism," i.e., German imperialism and as such 
it possesses no progressive content. The addition of the words 


"under workers control" does not alter the general character of the 
slogan. It only adds a "socialist" covering to the bourgeois lie 
of "defeating fascism." The outcome of bourgeois lies can never be 
socialism, not any step towards it. The demand for "increased 
production" to aid the Soviet Union did possess a certain progres- 
sive feature-- the desire to aid a workers state .. But this feature 
could possess no value to the workers despite its class nature 
until it was counterposed to the def encist--i . e. , bourgeois fea- 
tures. Failure to counterpose the desire of the workers to aid a 
workers state to their desire to prevent the defeat of "their own" 
country, e.g., by demanding that all existing arms be sent from 
Britain without regard to the interests of national defence, left 
the workers at the mercy of the Stalinists. In a slogan such as 
"Total Aid to the Soviet Union," the addition of "under workers 
control" would not be a deception of the working class. 

The demand for the ending of the Party truce may be progressive 
or reactionary. Progressive if counterposed to the bourgeois task 
of winning the war, reactionary if advanced as a means to the better 
prosecution of the war. 

In circumstances in which the masses are dominated by defencist 
illusions it is valueless to adopt slogans which fail to oppose 
such illusions. It is necessary to place the working-class neces- 
sity of ending the truce in as sharp opposition as circumstances 
will allow to the "national interest," to "winning the war." 

The idea that to call upon the workers to seize power can 
never be reactionary whatever the purpose is in its very essence 
unmarxist. No slogan can possess an intrinsic progressiveness . 
The call to the workers to seize power must be evaluated not in 
accordance with some Kantian virtue of the " slogan in itself " but 
by the purpose--the aim for which the slogan is advanced. "To 
seize power in order to defeat fascism" is in existing circumstances 
no more progressive than support of the imperialist war. The aim 
of "defeating fascism" is the aim of our own bourgeoisie even though 
the original deception practised by the bourgeoisie is cloaked by a 
"socialistic" demand to "seize power." A slogan cannot alter the 
character of the imperialist war. 


Defencism is a manifestation of bourgeois ideology. It infects 
the Revolutionary Vanguard through the capitulation of the masses 
to the intense ideological pressure exerted by the bourgeoisie 
through the instrumentality of the reformist leadership. But a 
"Revolutionary Vanguard" which succumbs to such influences and is 
unable to extricate itself is worthless. A failure of a "leader- 
ship" to resist an alien ideological pressure implies a failure to 
analyse the class origin of this pressure, that is, that it adopts 
a non-marxist, non-proletarian standpoint. It is petty-bourgeois. 
The masses on the other hand slowly but surely overcome their defen- 
cist illusions. The ideological pressure of the bourgeoisie is 


counteracted by the demands made by the bourgeoisie upon the prole- 
tariat. The sacrifices made by the workers in the interests of 
winning the war so sharply conflict with their class interests that 
the desire for the defeat and humiliation of their exploiters 
becomes the dominating factor in their attitude to the war. It is 
entirely untrue that the masses are unable to comprehend and accept 
the Leninist policy of Revolutionary Defeatism. The masses can 
assimilate every marxist theoretical question, but they do it in 
their own way, by testing it "under fire," in the same way they 
test the Revolutionary Leadership. Those "leaders" who have been 
unable to swim against the stream, who have capitulated to defencism 
and been unable to extricate themselves, are lost to the movement. 
The masses will never accept them as the Revolutionary Vanguard. 


Defencist tendencies in the Fourth International have mani- 
fested themselves most markedly in precisely those countries in 
which the proletariat has more than its chains to lose--those coun- 
tries which possess or possessed at the outbreak of the war colonial 
empires on the basis of which the bourgeoisie could grant its prole- 
tariat a privileged position. Hence it is not surprising to find 
that one feature of this defencism is expressed as a desire to 
"defeat f ascism"--i . e. , as opposition to the loss of a privileged 
position--as a pampered slave. 

Such opportunism must inevitably infect and is in fact infect- 
ing every aspect of Fourth International policy. In America and 
Britain the Fourth International is following in the footsteps of 
the 2nd., and 3rd., Internationals and it is useless to attempt to 
appeal to the absence of a distinct social strata in the Fourth 
International as the basis for degeneration. "History knows degen- 
erations of all sorts" and the ideological influence of a "parasit- 
ic" proletariat may yet provide the basis for the death of Trotsky's 
International . 

If the Fourth International is to live it must purge its ranks 
of all defencists. Not the slightest concession must be made to 
revolutionary defencism. At the core lies the need for a firm 
internationalist leadership which can resist the pressure of alien 
interests. This, not "objective conditions," is the only guarantee 
that the Fourth International can fulfill its historic role. 

Appendix to British Material 


BRJTfllH'g Wa 

Pfi'etaifoia is ilia @ 


Britain 1 s Millionaires pile up profits whiist 
British Soldiers go to the front ill-equipped. 



HEAR the case for 

Workers Goimltrol ©ff ^rofcfaj 


Grays Inn Rd., W.C.I. 


At 6.30 p.m. Doors Open 6 p.m. 

Speakers : BILL ELLIOT, A.E.U. 



TED GRANT, Editor "Socialist Appeal" 

G. HEALY in the chair. 

Auspices : Workers* International League 

Published by BL Grant for WXX* 61, Northdown Ot, King* Crow, N.l 

— *mm*l*+m 



(Letter sent to the Committee by Comrade C. ) 

The French text of this letter was taken from Bulletin Mensuel de la 
IVe Internationale (zone libre), No. 2, April 1941. The translation is 
by the Prometheus Research Library. Quotations from the SWP resolution 
have been changed to conform to the English original. 

The army plays an important role in the capitalist system: one 
can say that it forms the backbone of the state. For the bour- 
geoisie, the army has a dual role: it serves as an instrument to 
conquer new territories--this inevitable law of the system is the 
reason the army exists--and at the same time it is a means of coer- 
cion against the working class when capitalism comes up against its 
own internal problems. 

Recognizing that the army is the clearest expression of the 
class division of society means admitting that the highest levels 
of the capitalist state direct its organization and functioning 
toward the dual goal we mentioned. Military discipline is merely 
subservience fabricated by the bourgeoisie to serve its interests 
and requirements. 

In every case, whatever the state of demoralization in the 
army may be, in order to find a solution to a revolutionary situa- 
tion the working class must win over this instrument which will 
facilitate its seizure of power. The proletariat should never even 
think that the capitalist army can evolve, can be transformed, into 
an army of the working class. 

There is no doubt that we are at a stage preparatory to the 
revolution. In such a stage, the orientation that should be adopted 
by a party claiming to be working-class and revolutionary, to be 
advocated by militants claiming to be Marxists, is to make the pro- 
letariat see clearly the contradictions of the capitalist regime, 
to sharpen those contradictions to the point of creating a situation 
that impels the masses to fight for power. 

And that is where we, as Marxists, find reason to confront the 
SWP leadership, which says: "We fight against sending worker- 
soldiers into battle without proper training and without equipment. 
We oppose the military direction of worker-soldiers by bourgeois 
officers who have no regard for their treatment, their protection 
or their lives. We demand federal funds for the military training 
of workers and worker-officers under the control of the trade un- 
ions. Military appropriations? Yes--but only for the establishment 
and equipment of worker training camps! Compulsory training of 
workers? Yes--but only under the control of the trade unions!" 



American capitalism is working feverishly to enter the war 
under the best circumstances. What it lacks is not just stockpiles 
of arms and equipment, but also pro-war hysteria among the masses. 
What prevents this hysteria from being created is formal democracy 
in the USA (as in France and England ) --that is why, as events un- 
fold, the American bourgeoisie will gradually have to rid itself of 
democratic impediments. So it cannot grant relative control of the 
workers by trade-union tops. Supposing, however, that the American 
bourgeoisie did decide to make this concession, the "management" of 
the working class would have a corporatist, fascist character. 

In the area of production in general, in certain situations 
the workers movement has demanded control of production. It goes 
without saying that the revolutionary vanguard never viewed this 
control as a way to help capitalism to resolve its crisis, but as a 
way to deepen it even more and to demonstrate and expose to the 
working class how the surplus value is allocated. Fascism has been 
able to heighten its demagogy by granting the workers not "control" 
but "direct participation" in running the factories. One must not, 
of course, confuse a factory with a regiment and the army with the 
capitalist regime as a whole, but the control the American comrades 
demand does not go in the direction of exposing the very purpose of 
the army, nor does it further the disintegration of the army. 
Rather it results in maintaining the cohesiveness of this powerful 
instrument of the capitalist state whose goal is to resolve the 
crisis of the system. 

Classical "soldiers' committees" are the instruments to fight 
for the democratic demands that soldiers can and should always 
raise. To concede this mission to the American trade unions means 
reverting to the position of "parity committees" that we have seen 
in the area of production. Experience has proven that this path 
leads not toward intervention by the working class into the affairs 
of the state, but on the contrary state intervention into the af- 
fairs of the working class. Is the SWP giving Roosevelt the chance 
to form some sort of "parity committees" within the army, that is, 
to drag the working class into war? In that case, Roosevelt him- 
self, not the SWP, would be the one most concerned with ensuring 
that soldiers have good material conditions and are well equipped 
(look at the example of the German army). 

The strikes taking place in the United States demonstrate the 
existence of a working class fighting for transitional demands, 
which for the moment distance it from the union sacree with its 
bourgeoisie. So these strikes are political in character and the 
role of a true vanguard party must be to push the movement toward a 
revolutionary outcome. There is a sharp contradiction between the 
fact of the strikes and the slogan advanced by the SWP leadership. 

Here in Europe, lacking detailed and precise information, we 
are not very well able to measure the workers' resistance to the 
bourgeoisie and to the trade-union bureaucracy. We know the dangers 
that such a conflict entails, but once it is begun--and we should 
push to begin it--the revolutionary party must fight to win 


political leadership of it. The workers' independence from the 
interests of their own bourgeoisie underscores the contradictions-- 
which at that point can be resolved only by extreme solutions. At 
this time, we do not know what the practical result will be. Either 
we will be faced with favorable prospects or subjected to severe 
restrictions on the possibilities for struggle. In any case, the 
position of the SWP will prove wrong, whatever the result of the 
current strikes. 

Revolutionary policy should always be clearly defined for the 
working class which is waiting for an orientation. If the American 
comrades agree with us on the characterization of the imperialist 
war, we ask them: what interests of the working class does the 
militarization of that class correspond to? Especially considering 
that militarization corresponds precisely to preparation for par- 
ticipation in the war. Such a position does not go beyond that of 
social democracy which exposes the working class to the warmong- 
ering demands of capitalism--which during a period of crisis can 
resolve matters only by imperialist war. 

Lenin and the Bolsheviks taught us that situations change and 
tactics change with them, but they taught us fidelity to principles, 
including always steadfastly opposing intervention in an imperialist 
war. The ideological future and historical prospects that the 
convulsions of capitalism promise the proletariat are well beyond 
those offered by the most carefully elaborated opportunism. 

The current strikes have a clear class content, as does the 
imperialist war. The American workers will not avoid being dragged 
into the slaughter and the SWP ' s current line (trade-union control 
of national defense after the "Referendum on War") does not assist 
them in setting out on a path other than the one that leads to the 

The revolutionary possibilities for the world proletariat will 
arise when the consequences of the conflict begin to become clear. 
The means to bring forth and ripen these possibilities have been 
defined by Marxist revolutionaries on many occasions: first, ex- 
plain the class character of the imperialist war, then total inde- 
pendence of the working class taken to its most extreme conclusions 
(revolutionary defeatism). 

The opportunism we are condemning here is the reflection the 
masses produce in a small group. Being enmeshed in trade-union 
activity has led the American comrades to put tactics appropriate 
to a simple demand and the conquest of power in the same bag. 

Our local Committee published the SWP's position without giving 
its opinion, since we don't think the remark that it represents a 
new sort of tactical tendency which is "original" constitutes an 
opinion. We won't discuss the question of "originality," for us it 


is quite relative (Jaures talked a lot about a certain "New Army," 
etc.), but we do accuse the local Committee of aiding in sowing 
confusion, of not opposing something that is contrary to the prin- 
cipled positions of Bolshevism. 


The French text of this document was taken from Bulletin Mensuel de la 
IVe Internationale (zone libre), No. 2, April 1941. The translation is 
by the Prometheus Research Library. 

It is true that the Committee has not yet written down its 
opinion in black and white concerning the SWP's position. It felt, 
perhaps wrongly, that first the discussion should be started on the 
American documents, which already happened a few months ago. In 
cell meetings, comrades were unanimous in condemning the famous 
phrases: "We fight against sending into battle..." etc. And for 
the benefit of comrade C. we would point out that it was members of 
the Committee who were the first to stress the inappropriateness , 
the unfortunate nature of these phrases, to point out the more or 
less Utopian character of the slogan "trade-union control of the 
army," the all-too-obvious contradiction between the first part of 
the Manifesto ("not one man, not one penny, not one rifle for the 
bourgeois army") and the second part, which was the "original" 
contribution (we maintain the epithet: everyone is free to inter- 
pret it as he wishes). It was our intention to subject this docu- 
ment to the most searching criticism--so much so that we didn ' t 
include this first part in the Bulletin , since it merely confirmed 
our traditional position on war and the bourgeois army. 

Once this critical assessment had been made--an assessment 
which C.'s informant R. did not contribute to--it seemed to us wise 
to await new information and documents. It was all the more wise in 
that the SWP seems to us to still have a clearly BL [Bolshevik- 
Leninist] position: genuine opposition to the war, anti-Anglophilia 
(but also clearly setting themselves off from the pacifists and 
isolationists), in a word an independent class policy. To date 
there has been no trace of union sacree . And that is why their 
position on the army seems to us--pending further inf ormation--to 
be a gross tactical error if you will, but nothing more, at least 
for the moment. 

In addition, this position seems to us sufficiently open to 
criticism as it is, without having to find ways to distort it or 
even make it say what it doesn't say. Don't forget (and what fol- 
lows is not written with the intention of making excuses for the 
American position, but to clarify matters) that for our comrades it 
is a question of transitional slogans. C. counterposes trade-union 
control over the army to "Soldiers' Committees." That's wrong! 
Control is only a slogan for an immediate demand, like our "Down 
with two years" [length of army service] or "Five francs pay" [for 
soldiers]. We say this, to reiterate, without calling into question 
the incorrectness of the slogan "trade-union control of the army." 



But if the first two slogans are agitational, all the more so should 
the latter one be agitational. Comrade C. sees a "sharp contradic- 
tion" between the fact that there are strikes and the slogan put 
forward by the SWP leadership. Now the CIO (headed by Lewis) gener- 
ally supported the strike movement. Well, it is that same CIO 
which would probably be named by the SWP to "control" the army-- 
because the union remains a union, even if its leader supports a 
reactionary candidate in the elections. So where is the contradic- 
tion between strikes and "control"? 

Finally, we would point out that although trade-union "control" 
of the army seems to us a Utopian slogan, without practical applica- 
tion and as such wrong (even isolated from its dubious context), we 
also know that for the last few months the American fraternal party 
has been at the cutting edge of the strike wave, and that it has 
been doing nothing but "pushing this movement toward a revolutionary 
outcome. " 

The Committee 



Trotsky, Leon, Writings of Leon Trotsky ( 1 939-40 ) , 2nd ed. 
(New York: Pathfinder Press, 1973) 

"The U.S. Will Participate in the War," 1 October 1939, 94-97. 
"On the Question of Workers' Self-Def ense, " 25 October 1939, 

"Manifesto of the Fourth International on the Imperialist War 

and the Proletarian World Revolution," May 1940, 183-222. 
"Discussions with Trotsky," 12-15 June 1940, 251-289. 
"We Do Not Change Our Course," 30 June 1940, 296-299. 
"On Conscription," 9 July 1940, 321-322. 
"American Problems," 7 August 1940, 331-342. 
"How to Defend Ourselves," 12 August 1940, 343. 
"How to Really Defend Democracy," 13 August 1940, 344-345. 
"Another Thought on Conscription," 17 August 1940, 392. 
"Bonapartism, Fascism, and War" [unfinished, Trotsky mortally 

wounded 20 August 1940], 410-418. 

Cannon, James P. , The Socialist Workers Party in World War II 
(New York: Pathfinder Press, 1975) 

"Military Policy of the Proletariat," 28 September 1940, 66-83 
"Summary Speech on Military Policy," 28 September 1940, 93-103 
"First Results of Our Military Policy," 23 November 1940, 

"Militarism and Workers' Rights," 30 November 1940, 115-122. 
"Lenin, Trotsky, and the First World War," 7 December 1940, 


Cannon, James P., Socialism on Trial , 5th ed. (New York: Pathfinder 
Press, 1973) 


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James P. Cannon and the Early Years of American Communism 
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